"Bush should not punish the Palestinians by endorsing any unilateral proposal."
By HERB KEINON
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will brief Kadima ministers on his US trip Sunday, as editorial comment in some US papers indicated that despite the portrayal of the visit as highly successful by the Prime Minister's Office, there is a great deal of skepticism about the "realignment" plan.
For instance, in an editorial entitled "A viable Palestinian state," The New York Times on Thursday wrote, "It's long been clear that getting a workable, feasible Palestinian state out of two geographically separate masses of land in the desert will be an uphill battle. Now, because of two culprits and one enabler, Hamas, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of Israel and President [George W.] Bush, that hill is becoming a mountain."
Saying that Olmert "wants to go ahead with Ariel Sharon's misbegotten plan to unilaterally redraw the borders of what could eventually be Palestine," the Times wrote that Bush "should not punish the Palestinian people by endorsing any unilateral proposal - doing that would punish them for exercising their democratic right to vote."
"Mr. Olmert's proposal has two parts, and the first one is fine: to withdraw Israeli settlers and troops from vast areas of the occupied West Bank. That's a worthy goal, and one that has been way too long in coming," the paper editorialized. "The problem is with the second part of the proposal: to retain several large settlement blocs in the Palestinian West Bank. That's a recipe for disaster."
The Washington Post was no more supportive of Olmert's plan. "Though they paid lip service to continued Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, President Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in effect inaugurated an entirely different process at their White House meeting Tuesday - one in which Israel will parley with the United States about the new borders it intends to draw for itself," the paper wrote Friday.
The Post editorialized that Olmert made clear that "he doesn't believe Israel will be able to work with the Palestinian Authority anytime soon. Even if a credible partner appeared, Mr. Olmert might prove reluctant. Like his predecessor, Ariel Sharon, he opposes some of the compromises Israel would have to make to achieve a peace settlement."
Bush, the paper wrote, will "have the opportunity to encourage an Israeli redeployment that would open the way toward the Palestinian state he called for four years ago. But he could also cripple the prospects for that settlement if he provides a US imprimatur for a realignment that disregards essential Palestinian interests. Left to his own calculations, Mr. Olmert probably would settle on such a strategy."
The Boston Globe wrote Thursday that "in its public phases, the Washington debut of Ehud Olmert as Israeli prime minister seemed a success. His address to a joint meeting of Congress yesterday was received warmly. His press conference Tuesday with President Bush suggested an affinity between the two leaders. Olmert's domestic audience could assume that his plan to withdraw from outlying West Bank settlements and unilaterally establish permanent borders for Israel had not met with an outright rebuff."
But, the paper continued, the heavy lifting was done in private talks Olmert held with Bush, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and their top aides and that the information about those meetings points "to a cooperative atmosphere but also a healthy administration skepticism about Olmert's still-preliminary proposal to draw Israel's final borders unilaterally."
The Globe wrote that even in his public pronouncements, Bush politely warned Israel that although it may not have a Palestinian negotiating partner at present, and even if the US president "eventually accepts a unilateral Israeli withdrawal from select West Bank settlements, the unchanging US position is that a final-status peace agreement must be negotiated between Israelis and Palestinians. A sound corollary of this stance is that Israel must not undertake any unilateral measure that could bar a negotiated agreement on permanent two-state borders."
The US trip will also likely come up during a meeting Olmert is scheduled to hold Sunday morning with Defense Minister Amir Peretz to discuss the health-basket crisis. The two are expected to hammer out a compromise regarding the amount the Defense Ministry's budget will be cut in 2007 to fund an increase in the health budget and other social issues. The numbers bandied about in recent weeks ranged from between NIS 2 billion and NIS 4b.
Because of these two meetings, and other scheduling issues, the weekly cabinet meeting this week will not be held on Sunday, but rather on Tuesday.
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