Yitzhak Rabin would probably have called the three-way summit that will convene on Monday in Jerusalem by a term he favored, "bablat" (roughly "hot air"). Because nothing will come of this summit. Not peace negotiations, not a diplomatic agreement, and if Condoleezza Rice does not bang on the table, no easing of restrictions for the Palestinians either.
Ehud Olmert can enjoy the innovative aspect of a meeting with Rice and Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), or of staying at a hotel in Jerusalem instead of on the shores of the Red Sea, as in the days of his predecessors. But what about Abu Mazen, who for years has been dragging from summit to summit and repeatedly hearing those same declarations about "beginning the negotiations" and about a better future? In May 1996, Abu Mazen headed the Palestinian delegation to the opening ceremony of the final status talks in Taba. At the time, he called for the establishment of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital, and for a "just" solution to the refugee problem. Uri Savir, the head of the Israeli delegation, responded with a vague proposal about "separation between the nations, with the aim of achieving cooperation." Without borders, without refugees, without Jerusalem.
Exactly the same talk was heard prior to the present summit. As though nothing had happened in the 11 years that have since passed: neither Camp David nor the intifada and the suicide attacks, neither the disengagement nor the rise of Hamas. Abu Mazen continues to talk about a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders, and the changing Israeli leaders respond with vague slogans about a "diplomatic horizon."
Perhaps it's true that nothing has happened, and the sides are still trapped in the same basic positions, without flexibility or any understanding of the other side.
Olmert was dragged to the Jerusalem summit against his will. He had reservations about the initiative of the U.S. secretary of state and of Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni to skip over the obstacle of the road map and go straight to talks about the Palestinian state.
In recent weeks, the prime minister and his aides have been busy piling up difficulties on the summit agenda. They made it clear that Israel is opposed to American mediation and insists on direct negotiations; they explained that the discussions will be merely theoretical, and that implementation will be conditional on a return to the first stage of the road map and the dismantling of terror organizations; and, finally, they said Israel will not discuss the issues of the final-status arrangement, as Abbas is demanding.
And then came the "Mecca agreement" to form a national unity government between Fatah and Hamas, saving Olmert from great embarrassment. Abu Mazen embraced Khaled Meshal and proved, as Olmert has been claiming since the beginning of his term, that there is no partner on the Palestinian side. Rice insisted on coming to Jerusalem, and Olmert declared that he would turn the summit into a field trial. Ariel Sharon used to preach to Abbas that he should fight terror, and Olmert will demand fulfillment of the "Quartet conditions" and the release of Gilad Shalit, as well as the cessation of the firing of Qassams and the smuggling of arms into Gaza. As a partner of Hamas, Abu Mazen will find it difficult to claim political weakness as an excuse for inaction.
Sharon based his policy on his fear of the "corrals" of the final-status agreement. He knew that after Ehud Barak's proposals to the Syrians and the Palestinians, any future negotiations would begin from the shores of Lake Kinneret and the wall of the Temple Mount. Sharon was opposed to such a withdrawal and did everything possible not to enter the conference room. He kept pulling out new conditions: He demanded "seven days of quiet" from the Palestinians and waved the "six crimes of Damascus" in front of Assad. The maneuver was successful, and the international community adopted Israel's threshold demands, despite its support for the essential positions of the Arabs.
Olmert is the great successor of Sharon, and he is even more successful than his predecessor at presenting inflexible positions behind a mask of moderation and openness. He is sensitive to the nuances of the international community, woos its leaders and enlists them in imposing his conditions on the Palestinians. The Jerusalem summit will go down as another tactical victory for Olmert's "yes, but" policy, but will in no way bring us closer to a solution to the conflict. The only consolation is that Rice will come to the region this time in a small plane, thus cutting down on fuel and air pollution on her way to another unnecessary journey.
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