(photo credit: AP)
The Foreign Ministry on Thursday denied earlier reports in The Washington Post according to which Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni had called on Arab delegates at the Annapolis conference to stop treating her "as a pariah" and asked them why no one would shake her hand or be seen speaking to her.
According to a transcript of the speech provided by the Foreign Ministry, Livni did not in fact say any of the statements attributed to her, but rather said:
"I have heard some say that Israel should not expect a handshake, and I will not ask for one. But let us imagine what might happen if the worst possible scenario occurs and there is a handshake between an Israeli leader and an Arab leader whose country has no diplomatic relations with Israel, and that handshake is broadcast around the world."
"Then the extremists in the Arab countries will understand that a new era is beginning, that the process is right and that it is being implemented in stages," continued the quote provided by the Foreign Ministry.
The statements previously attributed to Livni had reportedly been given to The Washington Post by Dutch European Affairs Minister Frans Timmermans.
Livni and US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spoke to the summit's attendees in a closed-door session following the televised addresses by American, Israeli and Palestinian leaders. Many of these represented Arab nations that do not have diplomatic relations with Israel.
Referring to the Arab delegates' attitude towards Livni, Timmermans said they "shun her like she is Count Dracula's younger sister."
Livni had failed in attempts to set up meetings in Annapolis or Washington with colleagues from the Arab world, even though the summit was designed to show international support for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.
Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal had stated before the conference that he would not shake the hands of Israeli delegates, dismissing what he called theatric gestures.
Livni, who was interested in meeting some of the 15 representatives from the Arab and Muslim world at the conference who do not have ties with Israel, only held a meeting in Washington with Salaheddin al-Bashir, the Jordanian foreign minister whose country does have full diplomatic ties with Israel. That meeting took place Wednesday in Washington.
The Jerusalem Post has learned that there was also some pre-summit talk of Livni flying to one of the North African countries - Morocco or Tunisia - on her way home from Washington, but that this also failed to materialize.
Meanwhile, Rice, speaking after Livni, reflected on her childhood in the segregated South and said it allowed her to better understand both sides of the Israel-Palestinian conflict.
Officials in the room at the time told The Washington Post that Rice spoke without notes, recalling "a time of separation and tension."
She told delegates that when a local church was bombed by white separatists, four girls were killed, including one of her classmates.
"Like the Israelis, I know what it is like to go to sleep at night, not knowing if you will be bombed, of being afraid to be in your own neighborhood, of being afraid to go to your church," she said.
She added, however, that as a black child in the South, forbidden to use certain water fountains and shunned from certain restaurants, she was also in a good position to understand the feelings of the Palestinians.
"I know what it is like to hear to that you cannot go on a road or through a checkpoint because you are Palestinian," she said. "I understand the feeling of humiliation and powerlessness."
"There is pain on both sides," Rice concluded. "This has gone on too long."
Israeli officials interpreted Arab nations' refusal to meet with its representatives as evidence that the Arab world had not changed its fundamental policy that there would be no warming of relations with Israel until after a deal, and that normalization was one of the Arab world's major bargaining chips.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, likewise, did not hold any public meetings with any of the Arab representatives, and sufficed with pleasantries and handshakes with a few of them - the representatives from Qatar, Bahrain, Morocco and Pakistan - after delivering his speech Tuesday in Annapolis.
The Arab states present at the conference included Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen.
The Muslim states who participated were Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan and Turkey.
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