The long awaited meeting of Israel Prime Minister Olmert and Palestinian Prime Minister Abbas took place on Saturday evening, December 23, with hardly any fanfare, and with hardly any results either. It should have been a "great event," but if you blinked, you may have missed it.
The most interesting aspect of this meeting was the lack of publicity. The lack of results was predictable, and I predicted regarding such meetings in the past. The relative lack of publicity and fanfare was a bit strange. It is not that they didn't go out of their way to publicize it. Rather, the Palestinians, at least, went out of their way to depublicize it.
Just prior to the meeting, Saeeb Erekat was quoted in an official Palestinian news source as saying:
" It is untrue and baseless about the date of meeting Saturday or Monday as
no agreement yet on the exact date, " Erekat told Al Ayam local newspaper.
Only a few hours later, Erekat was happily announcing the results of the meeting.
It is not surprising that the meeting didn't accomplish much, because Abbas has nothing to offer the Israeli government, and the Israeli government is too weak to give Abbas very much without getting anything in return. Such concessions, which might be intended to strengthen Abbas's hand against the Hamas, would be attacked as "defeatism" by the opposition Likud. The meeting did not live up even to the limited expectations of a prisoner exchange. Israel is considering releasing $100 million in frozen tax funds to Abbas, Olmert promised to remove some checkpoints and to allow more trucks into Gaza. Israel may let the PLO's Badr brigade and some other forces enter Gaza to restore order.
From Ha'aretz we learn that:
Olmert also warned Abbas that given the continued Qassam rocket fire from Gaza despite a cease-fire in the area, it will be difficult for Israel to maintain its policy of restraint. Responding to a request by the Palestinian delegation to extend the cease-fire to the West Bank, Olmert said the Palestinians must first demonstrate an ability to uphold the truce in Gaza.
Concessions would be good for Mr. Abbas and bad for the rival Hamas. Therefore, Mr. Olmert has essentially laid out a plan of action for the Hamas, telling them what they must do to prevent Israeli concessions. Of course, Olmert really didn't have much choice. Likewise, the prisoner exchange that the Palestinians wanted could not go ahead because the Palestinians will not release Israeli hostage Gilad Shalit first. Mr. Abbas didn't have any choice about that either, because forces loyal to the Hamas hold Gilad Shalit.
Lurking in the background of course, was the call of PM Abbas for new elections for the Palestinian Legislative Council issued last week. Actually, Abbas didn't exactly call for elections. Rather, he threatened to dissolve the government and call for elections if the Hamas did not agree to a unity government. Abbas has been making such threats periodically for many months. It is getting increasingly difficult to take his deadlines seriously. However, this meeting may have been an indication that there was more to last week's call for elections than the previous calls. Or not.
Meanwhile, there have been some strange doings in the inscrutable and mysterious West, as well as the Middle East. A report in the Forward newspaper claims that the US State Department is considering declaring a Palestinian state with provisional borders in 2007. If there is any truth to it, this is the latest, and perhaps the ultimate, manifestation of the US mania for imposing "democracy" on the people of the Middle East, regardless of whether they want it or not. It is not clear how the US can declare a Palestinian state if the Palestinians don't want one. This program is also opposed to that of PM Abbas who rejected the similar-sounding, but very dissimilar plan of the Hamas for a state with temporary borders. Said Abbas
: "we are against a state with temporary borders.... [W]e are in favor of starting a comprehensive dialogue on the final status issues with the Israelis reaching a final and comprehensive peace agreement."
. Of course, the "temporary borders" contemplated by the Hamas are the 1949 armistice borders, and the permanent borders are nothing at all, which is quite different from the plan the US State Department may have had in mind. Abbas, curiously enough, "forgot" that he had called for new elections, and instead called for a resumption of unity government talks:
Regarding the national dialogue, President Abbas said that he is ready to start a scheduled dialogue to resume the past talks in accordance with what have been agreed upon, which is the formation of a national unity government that would end the current crisis.
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