United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the main impetus in the Bush administration for squeezing something out of the 2008 drought year, convinced the president to break from his principle of linkage - the basis of his road map - and skip to the final stage, the final status framework. This is a concession to Palestinian demands, and a further reversal for the Israeli position since Yasser Arafat opened fire in September 2000 and frightened Israel with the possibility that he might declare an independent state unilaterally (the "Magic Melody" scenario).
In June 2002, the president adopted the idea of independence on one condition: combating terrorism before a state can be established. At Annapolis that condition was put away.
Thus, Professor Rice of Stanford University invented a program offering a direct path to a doctorate, in parallel with classes to prepare for the high school matriculation exams. The supervisor is Lieutenant General William Fraser III, assistant to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, whose role is to monitor the mechanism for implementing the first stage of the road map. The mechanism will include two or three officials from the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv, probably including Counselor for Economic Affairs Bill Weinstein, who is responsible for Palestinian welfare projects, and others from the Consulate in Jerusalem.
General Keith Dayton, the security coordinator between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, and retired general James Jones, who was appointed at the end of the Annapolis conference as an overall regional security coordinator. The focus of Jones' mission has still not been determined: the Israel-Syrian track, a regional security framework for the Middle East, or perhaps the front against Iran.
Dayton was sent to replace General William Ward, the most senior African-American officer in the U.S. Army, who was promoted and placed in charge of the U.S. African Command out of political considerations. Ward and Dayton put together the scarecrow of the PA's security forces, with Mohammed Dahlan at its head, until it was overthrown last June in the Hamas assault.
Since then, the Americans and the Israelis are busy blaming each other over "who lost the Gaza Strip." The dispute took on a personal tone, to the point where questions were raised about Dayton's effectiveness. A figure as senior as Fraser was brought in to boost the American presence.
The assistant to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs is similar to the old position of chief of military operations at the General Staff in the Israel Defense Forces, a post canceled a decade ago. The position is meant to fill all the tasks that the two senior officers - the chairman and his deputy, or the chief of staff and the chief of operations - are too busy to handle themselves, including external relations.
To tighten inter-departmental coordination, the assistant of the Joint Chiefs is permanently part of the secretary of state's entourage around the world. In 1993, when Secretary of State Warren Christopher wasted his time on missions between Jerusalem and Damascus on behalf of President Bill Clinton, the assistant of the Joint Chiefs, Lt. General Daniel Christman, dealt with the security-related feelers between Yitzhak Rabin and Hafez Assad.
During Rice's visits to Israel, Fraser has so far sat in the meetings and kept quiet, like a well-mannered child among a group of elders. Now he is expected to talk with the two sides and demand that they report progress on implementing their respective commitments - Israel to evacuate outposts and stop construction in the settlements, and the Palestinians to counter terrorism.
Setting up the Fraser mechanism will enable Rice to demand from Israel a detailed timetable for evacuation, a working program that will commit the government irrespective of whether Ehud Olmert remains at its head.
Any delay in the evacuation, which served the Palestinians as an excuse to pause their counterterrorist activities, will no longer serve to delay the bargaining over a final-status agreement. The real battle, between Rice and Israel, will now take place over the president's support, with Rice having the upper hand, because until his next visit here, Bush will expect to see results on the ground.
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