French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Moratinos came to Jerusalem Sunday to see for themselves what is going on with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. They left more confused than when they came. The two Europeans had trouble deciding whom to believe: Netanyahu or his foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman.
The prime minister greeted them warmly and promised that if they got Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to drop the issue of the settlements, then within a year they would be invited to the ceremonious signing of a permanent status agreement. Lieberman, on the other hand, scolded them crudely and told them only a fool believes an agreement could be reached with the Palestinians in this generation.
Is Lieberman a deviant with a painful grip on Netanyahu, or was all this a show staged to show what poor Netanyahu can expect if he dares to reinstate the building moratorium in the West Bank for even a single day?
In either case, Lieberman's horror show put Netanyahu ahead. Bibi is enjoying the benefit of the doubt - maybe he really does have problems at home. This is making it easier for his old friend Dennis Ross to persuade U.S. President Barack Obama to offer Netanyahu benefits, including tempting security and diplomatic guarantees.
However, the Prime Minister's Bureau knows the Americans - as Netanyahu likes to say - are not fools. They do not waste valuable ammunition in return for another few weeks of building moratorium. After all, no one believes that within two or three months Netanyahu and Abbas will be reaching any understanding on core issues. What, then, is supposed to happen during those 60 to 90 days - and the day after?
Politicians in Jerusalem say the Obama administration is demanding that the first matter under negotiation be the border. An agreement over adjustments to the Green Line - the pre-Six Day War border - would once and for all get rid of the moratorium headache.
If by the end of the year the sides do not come to an agreement on a border - quite a reasonable assumption - the United States (or the quartet ) will put their map on the table. The map will presumably be no different than the outline that then-U.S. president Bill Clinton presented 10 years earlier: giving 94 to 96 percent of the West Bank to Palestine, and meter-for-meter exchanges of territory.
Obviously Netanyahu will not agree to such "decrees." Abbas and his colleagues in the Arab League know this too. This is why the foreign ministers' conference in Libya last week did not call off talks over the building moratorium. They prefer having Obama take on Netanyahu.
It is with good reason they gave the American president a month-long extension to solve the crisis. This date brings us to the other side of the congressional elections. They are hoping this will bring him over to their side.
Letter from a friend
Last week it was reported that Netanyahu had suddenly discovered the letter former U.S. president George W. Bush sent former prime minister Ariel Sharon, in order to soften the political pain of the Gaza disengagement. Netanyahu reportedly wants Obama to sign on that letter in exchange for a new moratorium on settlement construction. James Wolfensohn's new book explains why Netanyahu is nostalgic for Bush.
In his new book, Wolfensohn says Bush never took the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians seriously, the Australian daily Sydney Morning Herald reported over the weekend.
Wolfensohn, an Australian Jew, was appointed the quartet's special envoy to the peace process by Bush five years ago.
The newspaper describes Wolfensohn's astonishment when at the end of 2005, after seven months of efforts to bring the sides closer, he heard that secretary of state Condoleezza Rice was staying at the David's Citadel Hotel in Jerusalem and holding secret talks.
"Wolfensohn, enraged, went to the hotel, collared Elliott Abrahams, Mr. Bush's security advisor, telling him: 'Look, Elliott, I think you are a son of [a] bitch,'" the newspaper reports.
Rice chastised him for the undiplomatic language. The former World Bank president replied, "'Don't tell me that I am a trusted advisor,'" the paper reports. That isn't how you treat a trusted advisor.
Several days later Wolfensohn handed his credentials back to Bush and quit.
The wheels of justice turn
The Yom Kippur War documents have returned to the headlines. The head of Military Intelligence at the time, Eli Zeira, refused to believe up until the last minute - and even a bit afterward - that the Egyptians would dare to challenge strong Israel. Zeira also revealed that Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser's son-in-law was a Mossad agent. Dr. Ashraf Marwan, considered the most senior Egyptian agent Israel had at the time, was found dead three years ago after falling from a window of his central London apartment building.
Former Mossad chief Zvi Zamir publicly blamed Zeira for the leak, and blamed him indirectly for the agent's death. Retired Supreme Court vice president Justice Theodor Orr, who was appointed to mediate in a libel suit Zeira filed against Zamir, determined by the beginning of 2007 that Zeira was indeed responsible for the leak.
Six years ago Zamir and two former top intelligence officers asked former attorney general Menachem Mazuz to launch an investigation against Zeira.
This April the Justice Ministry told me, "A complex and comprehensive investigation has begun, which has been accompanied by constraints connected to gathering evidence from sources abroad." It stated, "We are hoping a decision will be made as quickly as possible." Half a year has gone by.
Yesterday the following response came from the Justice Ministry: "As we have informed the complainant's attorney in the Zvi Zamir case, the issue has been under consideration in recent weeks at the Attorney General's Bureau and a first discussion has been held involving the state prosecutor and representatives of the relevant bodies. No decision has been made yet and the attorney general plans to hold another discussion of the issue."
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