Olmert unmoved by pressure for Israel-Palestinian initiative
Pressure on Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to come up with an Israeli initiative to solve the conflict with the Palestinians has been mounting in recent days. Some of the more senior members of his cabinet have presented various plans. Initiatives have also been offered from outside the government, including Yossi's Beilin concept of a staged final settlement and the Franco-Spanish plan for the deployment of an international force in the Gaza Strip.
Meanwhile, the Arab states have called for an international conference, and the American security coordinator, General Keith Dayton, proposes bolstering the security forces of Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. As for the Baker-Hamilton panel on a new American policy in the region, who knows what it will come up with.
All these initiatives share the same goal of putting an end to the impasse in the Israeli-Palestinian diplomatic track. The Europeans always seem to want to show that they are doing something: Even if no results will be achieved, at least they will express support for the suffering Palestinians and will present Israel as an intransigent occupying force.
Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair, who will meet Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni in London tomorrow, reiterated over the weekend that Israeli-Palestinian peace would help the West in its struggle against radical Islam.
Livni has been trying for several weeks now to convince Olmert that Israel needs a diplomatic plan. Yesterday she took a step forward when she told the cabinet that it would be advisable for Israel to come up with an initiative before one is imposed on it. Until yesterday's meeting, Livni had not made such a statement in public.
On Friday, she held a rare meeting with Vice Premier Shimon Peres and, according to a report on Israel Radio, they talked about "diplomatic plans." In discussions with officials at the Foreign Ministry, efforts were made "to skip over to the second stage of the road map" - in other words, to consider setting up a Palestinian state with temporary borders, but without insisting on the absolute disarmament of the terrorist organizations.
Peres had a different idea: He would like to rekindle the "Jordanian option," which reinforces the link between the Hashemite kingdom and the West Bank. His initiative for the economic development of the Jordan Valley and the Arava, and its transformation into a "Peace Valley," is part of this concept of linking the two areas.
While Peres and Livni are seeking ways for a rapprochement with the Palestinians, another deputy prime minister, the minister in charge of strategic threats, Avigdor Lieberman, has his own proposals to make - but they lean in the opposite direction: Ignore Abbas, kill Hamas' leaders and reoccupy the Philadelphi Route in the southern Gaza Strip.
In the meantime, Justice Minister Meir Sheetrit, the leftist of Kadima, is suggesting that a permanent settlement be reached in one fell swoop - a plan more daring than that of Meretz chairman Beilin. We should also mention Defense Minister Amir Peretz, who wants to explore the Syrian track.
Olmert is not impressed by all this activity. During the cabinet meeting yesterday, he asked his ministers not to devise a new diplomatic initiative every day. The prime minister rejected the international summit idea of the Arab states, but says he is willing to participate in a more limited conference, with a defined mandate. This will allow him a photo-op with the Arab leaders without having to commit to anything of substance.
So far, Olmert has been stalling in public. He made it clear during the cabinet meeting that he intends to wait and see what happens with the makeup of the Palestinian unity government: "It is necessary to examine the [political] platform of this government and see what its commitments are," he said.
One political source says he does not understand the point of the internal debate. "What can [forces outside Israel] possibly impose on us?" he asks. "During the past two years we did everything we had been opposed to doing in the past. We pulled out of the Gaza Strip unilaterally, we offered to leave the West Bank, we brought an international force to Lebanon and European observers to Rafah. What is there to fear from an international conference? It's a joke. All this Israeli opposition is merely a media spin. If they wanted a positive spin, they would have said that these are good ideas."