Analysis: A sign of unsettling political times

By inviting Abbas to Beit Hanassi, Peres was signaling both to his guest and to the world that despite the political turbulence in Israel, the diplomatic process will continue.

By inviting Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to Beit Hanassi on Tuesday, President Shimon Peres - whose office is largely symbolic - was signaling both to his guest and to the world that despite the political turbulence in Israel, the diplomatic process will continue. He felt the need for this gesture because there are those among the Palestinians and in the Arab world who are questioning whether - with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in deep legal and political trouble - there is really anybody in Israel to cut a deal with. The now ugly bickering between Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, with Livni consistently undermining Olmert's authority to rule, and Olmert lashing back on Tuesday by calling her a "backstabber" and a "liar" not fit to rule, has only exasperated matters. Imagine US President George W. Bush speaking in those terms about US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, or - for that matter - Rice actively trying to unseat Bush, as Livni has been doing for weeks to Olmert. In such a situation, one would question how policy was being made in Washington. Which is exactly the question now being asked about Jerusalem. How, indeed, can rational decisions be made in Jerusalem regarding the diplomatic process under these circumstances, when all types of other considerations - political, personal - are obviously coming into play? And into this vacuum jumped Peres on Tuesday, all 84 years of him, announcing essentially that while the political sands in this country may be shifting, he is a constant on the scene, and he is, as ever, committed to the "peace process." Peres's message was clear: "Things in the country are changing, but I was there before all this, and I - Mr. Peace - will be here afterward as well to ensure that it doesn't break down." Ironically, considering Peres's track record with Oslo and as architect of the New Middle East, he actually had something to prove to Abbas as well. Earlier this month Peres was quoted in the press as saying at a private meeting that there was no chance of an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians because of the split between Hamas and Fatah, and that Abbas was too weak to carry out any agreement reached with Israel. While Peres has since denied ever making those statements, it is safe to assume that he clarified and denied them again when he met with Abbas on Tuesday. But while Peres was signaling the diplomatic process would continue, by throwing himself actively into the process he was underlining and highlighting Olmert's weakness. For if there were a strong prime minister in Israel, if there were a government where there was harmony between the prime minister, foreign minister and defense minister, the president would not have needed to invite the head of the PA to his house - the first time Abbas had ever been there - to reassure him that business will continue as usual. The invitation itself is as sure a sign as any that currently in Jerusalem, business is anything but usual.