Analysis: Neither Olmert nor Abbas has much to offer Rice

By
January 14, 2007 23:52
2 minute read.

 
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US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will fly from Israel to Egypt on Monday for meetings with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Rice must be relieved that in Egypt, at least, she will likely hear the same policy statement from Mubarak, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit and Egyptian head of intelligence Omar Suleiman. The same could not be said of her brief sojourn in Israel where, at every turn, one senior minister or another was pushing some overarching diplomatic plan. While Prime Minister Ehud Olmert pledges allegiance to the road map, the foreign minister talks about leapfrogging over the first stage and holding negotiations with the Palestinians about a provisional Palestinian state; the defense minister talks about a new road map with final status negotiations to begin within six months and a resuscitation of the Saudi initiative; and Minister of Strategic Affairs Avigdor Lieberman talks about stationing 30,000 NATO troops in Gaza. The plethora of different plans is a sign of Olmert's weakness because if his position were strong, his ministers would not undercut him by presenting their own diplomatic initiatives for what appear to be partisan political reasons. Peretz needs a diplomatic initiative to help him in the upcoming Labor leadership race; Livni - who has hinted broadly at prime ministerial aspirations - seems to be positioning herself for such a move with her independent plans; and Lieberman still needs to justify to his voters what he is doing propping up the Kadima government. Rice's visit has come at a most awkward time - a time where neither her main Israeli interlocutor, Olmert, nor her Palestinian partner, PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, can deliver the goods. Olmert laid out his diplomatic vision in his Sde Boker speech in November, but at present, with polls showing Kadima on the skids, he does not have the political strength needed to carry out any controversial steps. Right now, Olmert doesn't have the ability to push the evacuation of isolated settlement outposts, let alone large swaths of territory called for in the vision he presented at Sde Boker. The same is true on the Palestinian side. Abbas can't stop the firing of Kassam rockets on the western Negev, let alone uproot the terrorist infrastructure as the first phase of the road map demands. It is no surprise, therefore, that - contrary to some of the pre-visit hype - Rice didn't come to Israel bearing any grand diplomatic design or plan. In the current configuration, neither Olmert nor Abbas is politically strong enough to deliver much of anything. Rice is relegated to taking stock of the situation, gauging in the current situation what, if any, small steps Olmert or Abbas may be able to take.

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