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Israel has in recent days delivered not one but two slaps to its closest ally.

The first came in remarks by ex-Shin Bet chief and senior Kadima candidate Avi Dichter, speaking of negating the road map and moving on to a policy of unilateralism - in contrast to statements by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in her joint news conference with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.

The second was delivered via a USAID report, which corroborated the claims of Palestinians that Israel was failing to keep promises it had made to Rice, a situation which according to the study could bring about economic catastrophe, beginning with the destruction of the Gaza hothouses project, which Washington had so strongly supported.

Since her return from her first visit as foreign minister to Washington last month, Tzipi Livni has been boasting of her tight cooperation and ties of coordination with her counterpart Rice. However, it appears that she has no similar relations with Dichter, who is placed a few slots after her on Kadima's Knesset candidate list, because the former Shin Bet chief's plan to replace the road map peace plan with unilateral moves amounts to a slap in the face to Livni's new friend in the American State Department.

Here are the main points in Rice's answer to a question that came up during a joint Livni and Rice press conference, regarding the no-partner approach and the option of unilateral acts:

"We certainly hope that over the next period of time that there will be a partner for Israel to deal with," Rice replied. "That is everyone's hope for the roadmap. That depends on what happens in the Palestinian territories. The United States position on this is very clear and remains the same. No one should try and unilaterally predetermine the outcome of a final status agreement. That's to be done at final status," Rice said.

Rice made it clear that President George Bush's letter to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon regarding the need to take into consideration the demographic reality created in the West Bank since 1967 does not pave the way for anyone to "try and do that in a preemptive or predetermined way, because these are issues for negotiation at final status."

Perhaps Dichter is not the only Israeli politician who is not impressed by America's No. 1 diplomat. Bassem Jaber, CEO of the Palestine Economic Development Company (PED) is learning this from his own experience. The company he heads bought the Gush Katif hothouses, and because Israel closed the Karni crossing, it throws away thousands of vegetable crates every day and is sending its employees home.

U.S. envoy James Wolfensohn, Secretary of State Rice and the European Union "they all promised that the crossings would not be an obstacle," he says, and notes the millions of dollars invested in rehabilitating the hothouses, including donations from Israelis and American Jews.

According to Jaber, sleepless nights and determination bore fruit, mainly strawberries. The hothouses provide jobs for some 6,000 workers. All this is going down the drain because of Israel's decision to close the crossing. The direct losses amount to $70,000-$100,000 a day, and the total damage is much greater. Jaber expects that if Rice and other involved parties continue to ignore their obligations, he would have to close shop.

A recent World Bank report, which states that Israel is not carrying out the agreement regarding the crossing between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip (Haaretz, March 6), confirms that Rice is not making any impression on Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz.

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