PM, Bush to discuss 'realistic' goals

Key issues in June talks to include ways to strengthen Palestinian moderates.

rice, abbas, olmert 298. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
rice, abbas, olmert 298.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The focus of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's talks with US President George W. Bush in two weeks will be on what progress can realistically be expected on the Palestinian track in the final 18 months of Bush's term in office. One of the main issues of the scheduled June 19 talks in Washington, The Jerusalem Post has learned, will be what can be done to try and build up an accountable address on the Palestinian side that can take responsibility for the events in the Palestinian Authority, in light of what is emerging as PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas's increasing weakness. The discussions are expected to aim at setting realistic goals that are achievable over the next 18 months, to ensure the US and Israel are understanding each other correctly. Among the key issues to be discussed will be how to strengthen the moderates on the Palestinian side, and whether Abbas is even a relevant player anymore. It is also expected that the meetings would allow for coordination between Olmert and Bush over a possible policy speech the president would deliver on the Israeli-Palestinian issue later in the month. This June 24 will be the five-year anniversary of Bush's landmark speech outlining his vision of a two-state solution and also comes amid heightened American diplomacy aimed at resolving the conflict. In addition to the Olmert visit, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is due to visit the region as part of a Quartet meeting around that time. The White House has not yet confirmed the speech, Washington sources noted, or whether it would contain a new policy direction or serve to reaffirm the president's previous positions. One official indicated that it would likely update the Bush vision to fit in with the current realities on the ground. Those current realities are leading voices in Jerusalem to warn that Abbas may be rapidly reaching irrelevance and that Israel has lost an address on the Palestinian side which it could hold accountable. One of the main issues in the Bush-Olmert discussions is expected to be what can be done to try and build up "governmental authority" in the PA, with concrete decisions needed to be made on how to strengthen the moderates. The sense in Jerusalem is increasingly that strengthening the moderates doesn't necessarily mean strengthening Abbas anymore, because it is no longer clear to what degree he can deliver on anything. Although no one is publicly talking about the need for a moderate replacement to Abbas, there is talk in some governmental circles in Jerusalem of how his weakness is hampering Israel diplomatically. For instance, while the international community is coming to Israel with certain demands, they are not making any real demands of Abbas, because of a feeling that he simply is too weak to deliver.