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(photo credit: AP)
President George Bush will ask Prime Minister Ehud Olmert if his convergence plan was compatible with the idea of a two-state solution when the two leaders will meet next week. According to a senior administration official, Bush will expect Olmert to explain how a unilateral move could be compatible with the US administration's wish for a negotiated final status agreement.
The official told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday that President Bush will not express his opinion on the plan at this stage. "We need answers before the President can make a decision. There will be no decisions made at this meeting," the official emphasized.
The US administration believes that there is sufficient time to pursue both the idea of direct negotiations on a final status agreement and the unilateral withdrawal plan, since no settlement would be removed before the end of 2007 or the middle of 2008. According to the official, it would still be possible to go ahead with negotiations if there was a political change in the Palestinian Authority by the time Israel was ready to implement the convergence plan.
Although "There is no timetable and no fixed date," the official said, "Olmert has limited time in office" and wanted to implement his plan while George Bush was still in the White House. Even so, the US would not set a deadline for Olmert on implementing the convergence plan.
Though it does not support Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas' request for entering final status discussions, the Bush administration expects Israel to speak to Abbas on issues of humanitarian assistance, border crossings and tax revenue.
Bush and cabinet members will present several questions regarding Olmert's plan for unilateral withdrawal plan in a series of meetings to be held in Washington next week. The questions will deal with issues of IDF forces that may remain to the west of the fence, negotiations with Jordan on border issues, protection of the holy sites in the West Bank after Israel withdraws and the legal status of the new borderline. The administration official estimated that there were at least two-dozen questions regarding Olmert's plan that were still not answered.
"The Gaza disengagement was easy, because the borders were clear and there were no Israelis left there," the official said, adding that a plan for unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank was "extremely complicated."
The official stressed that the US view was that most of the settlements in the West Bank "need to go," though he added that the administration remained committed to the statement in Bush's letter to Ariel Sharon in which he spoke of the reality on the ground created by major Jewish settlement blocs.
Bush was also expected to raise the issue of sending assistance to the Palestinian Authority without allowing aid to go through the Hamas-led government. The administration still believed that pressure on Hamas was building, and that this pressure might bring about a change in the organization's policies. According to the senior official, the administration believed that Hamas was trying to maintain terror at a low level while not doing a thing to eliminate it altogether.