The denial / Assassination of a peace initiative
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert could have said that he had no idea about the covert channel for talks with Syria in which Alon Liel and other Israelis participated. Perhaps his bureau officials forgot to report to him about the meeting with the European mediator. It happens.
It could also be that the officials in the Foreign Ministry director general's bureau thought there was no need to tell the Prime Minister's Bureau about the latest developments resulting from the covert channel. They know that, in any case, Olmert can't talk to the Syrians because of the veto imposed by U.S. President George W. Bush, or that Olmert doesn't want to move closer to Syrian President Bashar Assad because of the veto of Minister for Strategic Threats Avigdor Lieberman.
But the prime minister did not make do with: "I didn't know about it."
Yesterday morning, Olmert already knew that everything was nonsense. Liel had been speaking to himself, the Syrian representative was daydreaming and the European mediator never existed. It appears that Olmert wanted to assassinate this peace initiative, and quickly. It had to be done before it shook the coalition partners from Labor out of their primaries-induced coma. And if it turned out that there was something to this after all, maybe Tzipi Livni would make some noise about negotiations. Indeed, Meir Sheetrit already said Israel must speak to Syria, and that he quite likes the document published in Haaretz yesterday.
The European mediator's visits are documented in the Prime Minister's Office and Foreign Ministry. The only thing left is to decide which is more serious: that the clerks didn't report to their bosses, or that everyone is deceiving the public.
In the best-case scenario, there was a communication failure among the professional staff. In the worst case, the politicians turned their backs on an important document and gave up the chance to begin formal negotiations with Syria on the basis of the key understandings, which would not have been achieved without the blessing of official Damascus.
When official Jerusalem turns such meetings into a joke, Syria won't be able to lag far behind. Does anyone expect that when Olmert says he has nothing to do with this document, Assad will adopt it and announce he has given up any desire to dip his feet into Lake Kinneret?
It's common to think that Israeli political leaders are running away from the Syrian so as not to anger the Americans; after Bush placed Assad in the Axis of Evil, how is it possible to demand that Olmert bring him out?
The key role played by American citizens Geoffrey Aronson and Ibrahim Suleiman in the eight meetings raises doubts as to whether Bush is the reason - or just the excuse - for the Israeli refusal to negotiate. American intelligence was not unaware of the visits of the two Americans, and if the decision-makers in Washington were interested in making the meetings fail, they would have found a way to do so.
The only way to check if this is "totally chatter" or the missing of an opportunity for peace is to put the document to the test: Take it out of the closet and put it on the negotiating table.