United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice completed yesterday another visit to Israel and the Palestinian Authority, as part of her regional diplomatic tour. With less than two years left in office, President George Bush has finally joined the effort to salvage the faltering Arab-Israeli peace process.
This effort is a positive step forward and better than nothing, but courtesy calls are not enough if ultimately Ehud Olmert merely agrees to regular meetings with Mahmoud Abbas.
Even though Israel is not invited to the Arab League summit that opens in Riyadh today, it should support the summit and be glad that Arab states, under international auspices, are initiating a process of reconciliation with Israel.
The stance of the Israeli government, as a skeptical observer, is unbecoming; an impasse in the region will result in bloodshed. Israel must initiate and also respond to initiatives, and participate in any format that is seeking to further a settlement and, above all, it is not entitled to remain passive and wait for the perfect peace initiative.
Different factors, including domestic political reasons and external policy matters, prevent the government of Israel from adopting an independent diplomatic initiative; but the government is not exempt from responding to other plans.
The Saudi Arabian initiative of 2002 is once more on the agenda, an initiative that was adopted - albeit with an amendment that made it worse, from Israel's point of view, in the matter of the refugees - by the Arab League. Israel does not have to accept the Arab plan as is. It is enough that it reflects progress toward a reconciliation between the entire Arab world and Israel, and includes a basis for continuing the talks.
A realistic government would have rushed to embrace this willingness for recognition and reconciliation, expressing reservations for what it does not accept and seeking dialogue on the regional level.
However, the Olmert government has been derelict in its duty to its voters and is offering arguments and excuses to avoid taking the diplomatic bull by the horns. The arguments being made - and at top of the list is the weakness of Abbas, who did not keep his commitment to bring about the release of Gilad Shalit prior to setting up a unity government with Hamas - are not groundless, but are not sufficient.
However, Olmert, who is fighting for his political future, is apparently more concerned about progress that requires a withdrawal than an impasse that will mean escalation.
Rice was deterred from bringing American pressure to bear on Israel. She established the frequency of meetings between Olmert and Abbas, but not the content.
The declared movement toward a democratic, moderate Palestinian state, whose creation would bolster Israeli security, was mentioned in a feeble voice.
Without energetic diplomatic activity from Washington, Bush, Olmert and Abbas will end their tenure in office without benefiting the peoples of the region.