There may be a lot of hoopla with regard to Bush’s visit here. But many Israelis find there is little genuine joy in their hearts at the arrival of the American president.
The editorial in today’s Jerusalem Post puts it well:
"…this visit is overshadowed by undeniable tinges of sadness, desperation and even a feeling of betrayal. The first visit as president of such a great friend should be a tremendous occasion, yet it is serving as a tragic reminder of how skewed American policy has become, and how far the messenger seems to have strayed from his message."
The Post, actually, is full of ads, several full page, exhorting the president to re-think what he’s doing. On the front page is one placed by a number of prominent Israeli citizens that asks, "PRESIDENT BUSH, How did we lose you?"
Inside, a full page ad by One Jerusalem admonishes that "Suddenly, the unity of Jerusalem is being spoken of as a political bargaining chip…There is no moral or political justification for rewriting history to deny Jewish heritage, no justification for redividing Jerusalem, no justification for, God forbid, turning King David’s City of Peace once again into a devastated war zone…"
It was reported that Olmert, in his talks with Bush today, intended to lay down red lines, specifying what, from Israel’s perspective, was not negotiable. And the suggestion was that there would be some confrontation on certain matters.
Well…I listened to the joint Bush-Olmert press conference this evening and would like to comment:
The atmosphere was incredibly gushy , with Olmert over and over praising Bush for being such a good friend. And yet, and yet… I strongly suspect there was dissension during their private conversation on the issue of settlements, and that, indeed, Olmert did draw some lines. I read what was said as having significance.
First, Olmert declared that Israel is open and honest about her position. Even if everyone doesn’t necessarily like that position, he believes there is respect for our forthrightness. (This is more than an idle statement, in my opinion.) He said that he recognizes a commitment to not build new settlements or to appropriate new land in Judea and Samaria. (Important note: He said nothing about an Israeli obligation to refrain from building inside existing settlements to accommodate natural growth — and there’s a bone of contention with regard to this.)
However, he explained, Israel does not regard Jerusalem to be in the same category. I liked it that he said this, because it flies directly in the face of Rice’s comment — and she was sitting there and heard him. Condi did not have a happy look on her face. As well, said Olmert, Israel doesn’t apply this principle of no building to certain "population centers." He did not specify which centers, although he was obviously speaking of major settlement blocs.
When a journalist asked a question regarding taking down of "illegal outposts" and whether Bush cares, the president said that of course he cares and this has been under discussion for some time. Olmert simply smiled — he pointedly did not rush to say, yes, they will all come down immediately (although indeed he might intend this).
And so, as much as Olmert frequently makes me despair, it seems that here he has drawn some lines — almost assuredly from a pragmatic and not principled perspective — but lines.
And then there was another issue that may be more significant yet: Olmert said that he has made it clear to Abbas that there is no deal while rockets are being launched at Israel. An agreement, he said, must include Gaza.
Bush then said that the first thing he is going to ask Abbas when he sees him tomorrow is, "What are you doing about the rockets?" (Abbas is going to love that.)
Well, Abbas has less than no power in Gaza. He certainly cannot control the terrorists launching those rockets and he cannot get Hamas on board to agree to a full peace treaty with Israel. It ain’t gonna happen.
I believe that Olmert laid it on the line today with regard to PA complicity in terrorism, and the vast failures of their security services. I suspect that Bush now has a clearer picture of what we’re dealing with, and better understands our security demands.
Bush’s final word on the subject was this: No one can ask Israel to work for the establishment of a state at its border that will harbor terrorists. Well, good morning! Of course, Bush then goes on about his goal of a free and democratic Palestine, as if this were remotely within the realm of possibility. But if he recognizes what Israel simply cannot accept, then we’ve come a long way.
Of course, Bush would never say that this isn’t going to work. He’s unendingly “optimistic" that we may achieve peace by the end of the year. But it’s possible that in his heart of hearts he knows better now.
If that’s the case, then my own heart beats just a bit more easily. And Bush’s visit will have turned out to be a good thing.
I know, it’s a stretch, but… If these two men are even halfway serious about what has to happen before there can be a final deal, then we know there will be no final deal.
Just in case you hear — and it is likely that you will — that most Israelis are in favor of withdrawing to the ’67 lines and dividing Jerusalem to achieve peace, allow me to set the record straight:
B’nai Brith International has just done a poll of Israelis and has found that:
66% oppose withdrawal to ’67 lines to achieve peace
68% of Israelis believe Jerusalem should remain the undivided capital of Israel
It was announced yesterday that Olmert and Abbas, following a meeting, had agreed to instruct their negotiators to start dealing with all core issues — Jerusalem, refugees, borders.
This process, it was said, would begin soon, and would involve a three-tiered procedure: First, the heads of the negotiating teams, Tzipi Livni and Ahmed Qurei, would discuss the issues directly in meetings. (Which is exactly what Haaretz had reported days ago, and what was subsequently denied.) Then committees would work out details. And where there was disagreement, Olmert and Abbas would intervene.
Makes it sounds simple, doesn’t it? But we’re talking here about discussions on who controls the Temple Mount and whether any settlements at all remain and what happens to neighborhoods in Jerusalem beyond the Green Line and whether any so-called "refugees" get to live in Israel.
We’re talking about things that should never be on the table. Ever, ever, ever.
What I note here for the record is that Bush also spoke today about a three-part process, but his three parts were different: the process to define a Palestinian state; adherence to the demands of the road map; and efforts to strengthen the PA economically and with regard to its security services.
With regard to the announcement about negotiations, we must ask where Strategic Affairs Minister Avigdor Lieberman — who said his party ,Yisrael Beitenu, would pull out if core issues were discussed — now stands.
He has now said he’ll pull out. But discussions won’t start until after Bush leaves and he doesn’t want to cause a crisis while the president is here, so he’ll wait a few day
This equivocating and hedging is just a tad nauseating.
In one place I read a comment that he said he’d pull out if committees to discuss these things are formed, and they haven’t been formed, so he doesn’t need to pull out yet. Come on!!
Then there has been another observation : That originally Lieberman assumed that he’d pull out in concert with Shas, and it seems less significant to pull out now since, without Shas, he won’t be bringing the gov’t down.
Well, as of today I’m not sure about Shas . The party had been bought by Olmert with the reinstitution of the religious affairs ministry in new guise.
However, there’s a new development: Shas religious leader Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef, who has the last word on Shas issues, has reportedly called MK Eli Yishai and told him not to engage in negotiations with the Palestinians, as Jews were being killed by rockets from Gaza.
So we must see how this plays out.
There were two barrages of Kassams aimed at Sderot today. In the morning there were nine rockets and in the afternoon five. The second barrage injured four; one rocket landed on a home.
Yesterday two Katyusha rockets were shot from Lebanon into Shlomi, a town in the Galil. It is thought that they were launched by a group associated with Al Qaida rather than Hezbollah. Barak said that while this is taken with utmost seriousness, no change in current policy is anticipated as a result.
Al Qaida has been making a great deal of noise of late. Just days ago a spokesman for the group urged on the Internet that Palestinians greet Bush with bombs and booby-trapped cars. Hostility has been aimed, in several respects, not just at Israel, but also at the US.
More to come on the politics, hopefully tomorrow.