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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Olmert claims 'real progress,' 'Palestinians' look shocked

Prime Minister Ehud K. Olmert told Shimon Peres' Presidents' Conference in Jerusalem on Tuesday that 'real progress' is being made in negotiations with the 'Palestinians' and that 'understandings' have been reached.
Hours before the arrival of US President George W. Bush, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Tuesday evening that "real progress" has been achieved in the negotiations with the Palestinian Authority, and that "understandings and agreements have been reached on important matters, although not on all issues."

Speaking at the gala opening of the presidential conference in honor of Israel's 60th anniversary in Jerusalem, Olmert termed the discussions with the PA "highly serious and significant."

"There is some real progress, and some important understandings have been reached in important areas, though not in all areas," he said.

This was the first time, diplomatic officials said, that the prime minister had publicly characterized the talks in such an upbeat fashion.

Last week, after Olmert met with PA President Mahmoud Abbas, it was Olmert's spokesmen - not the prime minister himself - who said the talks were progressing significantly, leading some to charge that the Prime Minister's Office was merely trying to deflect attention from the Talansky affair with positive diplomatic news.
We'll come back to what the Post refers to as the 'Talansky affair' in a minute, but first I'd like to get to the 'Palestinian' reaction to Olmert's statement.
Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat responded Tuesday night to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's remarks on progress made in Israel's peace talks with the Palestinians, saying that "our negotiations have been serious and in depth, but gaps still exist in all issues. We hope to bridge the gaps."

Another senior Palestinian official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters, "I don't know what kind of progress he's talking about. We still have a long way to go."
Olmert is starting to remind me of Shlomo Ben Ami, who was foreign minister under Ehud Barak and helped bring about the Camp David disaster of 2000. If you're wondering where this kind of 'progress' is heading, here's the denouement of Taba - after Camp David and three days before Barak was defeated in a special election - in January 2001 (this was largely written by me for my mailing list in 2001, with some marked updates in 2007):
The 10:00 news in Israel tonight reported that the "Taba Talks" have ended with a joint communique which said that because of the time limitations they could not reach an agreement, but that they would be happy to start again from the point they left off with whatever Israeli government is in power at the time. [Emphasis added in 2007. CiJ] The communique reeked of Shlomo Ben Amam [2007 addition: For those who don't speak Hebrew, this nasty name bears explaining. Ben Ami - his real name - means "One of my people." Ben Amam means "One of their people. CiJ] - how the talks were serious, to the point, friendly and so on - the sort of long list of overly enthusiastic descriptive terms we are used to from Ben Amam.

The news followed with a long list of right wing politicians who demanded that Barak disclose what understandings were reached. I suspect that if he did, he would likely have to cede his position as Labor party nominee to Peres. Not that Peres is any better. [At the time, Barak's numbers were so bad that there was actually talk of replacing Barak with Peres on the ballot. It never happened. CiJ]

The problem is that the damage that Barak has done to any possibility of a future peace agreement during the period since Clinton's proposals in late December is simply incalculable. He has convinced the Palestinians that they can have everything while giving up nothing. Just as an example of this, Abu Alla said tonight that if Sharon is elected and wants to negotiate with us based on the "understandings" reached at Taba, that's fine, and if not, the Palestinians have diplomatic and "other" means of reaching their goals. Fifty Israelis can tell you about those "other" means R"L from six feet under.... [Emphasis added in 2007. CiJ]


I have the 11:00 news magazine on now, and am listening to a detailed report from Yoni Ben Menachem, who is a senior diplomatic correspondent for Israel Radio. I am hoping that Dr. Lerner will translate what Yoni said, but the summary is that although Shlomo Ben Amam said that we are closer to an agreement than ever, everyone else dismissed the entire talks and tonight's press conference as an election show. Minister of Tourism Amnon Lipkin Shahak (a former Chief of Staff) went home for Shabbos and did not bother to come back for today's negotiations (no, he didn't suddenly find religion AFAIK) or tonight's press conference. Ben Menachem went through a long list of issues which remain where they started (including land, where the Palestinians want pretty much every last bit of what we liberated in 1967). Abu Allah said that the major sticking point is the refugees - for the Palestinians, the "right of return" is a red line. The funniest moment of the night apparently occurred in a conversation in the hall between Israeli journalists and Muhamed Dahlan, the head of the "preventive security" for the Palestinians in Azza. They asked him what he thought of the negotiations, and he used a Hebrew slang which translates to "bull dung." 'Nuff said.
The only one other than Olmert who doesn't seem to understand that we're not going to reach an agreement between now and January 20, 2009 is unfortunately US President George W. Bush.
"I do believe we can get a state defined by the end of my presidency," Bush told Israel's Channel 10 television.

"A state won't exist until certain obligations are met by everybody," he said. Defining what that state would look like was "very important", he added.

During a visit in January, Bush said he believed Israel would sign a peace treaty with the Palestinians in 2008.
But both the 'Palestinians' and Bush's own Secretary of State have come to the realization that it's not going to happen.
On the eve of US President George W. Bush's visit to Israel, Palestinian Authority officials expressed pessimism regarding the chances of reaching an agreement with Israel before the end of this year.

PA President Mahmoud Abbas said Tuesday that the issue of the Palestinian refugees remained the most important issue. [Sounds like deja vu all over again, doesn't it? See above description of 2001 'negotiations.' CiJ]

"It's not less important than the issue of Jerusalem or the borders or other issues that are being discussed [with Israel]," he said during an event in Ramallah marking Nakba (Catastrophe) Day - the term Palestinians use to mark Israeli Independence Day.

"The Palestinian people won't forget the right of return for the refugees," Abbas said. "This is one of the rights of the Palestinian people. Our people have been living this nakba for 60 years, and they are continuing to struggle and defend themselves."

Abbas said the Palestinian negotiators were well aware of the rights of the Palestinians and would continue to stick to them.

"We are trying to achieve a just peace," he said. "We are serious in our efforts, and we want the support of the international community."

The head of the PA negotiating team, Ahmed Qurei, ruled out the possibility that a breakthrough would be achieved by the end of this year.

"We are holding serious negotiations [with Israel] on all the crucial issues," Qurei said. "All the issues are on the table and there are many differences between the two sides."

Qurei said that despite the difficulties, the Palestinians would continue to negotiate with Israel "without making any concessions or surrendering our rights. It's possible that the negotiations won't lead to anything, but this would not be the end of the road." [There's not much point to 'negotiations' if you're not going to make any concessions, is there? What are you negotiating and with whom? CiJ]
Even Condi is lowering expectations:
Ahead of a visit to the Middle East, US President George W. Bush expressed some optimism that an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement would be struck before his term ends while holding out little hope for a major breakthrough when he arrives in Israel on Wednesday.

His Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, on Tuesday said reaching such a deal within the next eight months "might be improbable but it's not impossible."


Rice said it was "a misperception that not that much is going on in the political negotiations." The secretary of state's language was tempered, however.

"I'm also a big believer that nothing is really impossible," she said in an interview conducted Monday and aired Tuesday on CBS' "The Early Show." "It might be improbable but it's not impossible."

White House press secretary Dana Perino said Tuesday that the two sides "have been doing a lot of good work behind the scenes, out of the glare of the spotlight and away from the microphones, which has helped them make some halting progress."

"It's sluggish, that's true," she said. "They have very complex issues to deal with, with decades of conflict that have built up. And if this was easy it would have been solved a long time ago."

Echoing Rice, Perino said, "I would put it this way ... while it's exceedingly difficult, it's not impossible." She said the US did not anticipate any major breakthroughs this week but that Bush believes his one-on-one meetings are the best way to make progress.
I did say I would have an update on the 'Talansky affair.' It seems that attending Shimon Peres' conference is a great way to get yourself a meeting with the Israeli police's fraud squad. Casino mogul Sheldon Adelson and Slim Fast founder S. Daniel Abraham were both taken in for questioning about bribing Olmert when they arrived yesterday for Peres' conference.
Police questioned billionaire U.S. businessmen Sheldon Adelson and S. Daniel Abraham in connection with the investigation. Both men are in Israel to attend the Presidential Conference.

Real estate tycoon Adelson on Tuesday provided a sworn statement to detectives. Police believe that Olmert wrote to him and at least one other major hotel owner and asked them to buy mini-bar refrigerators for their properties made by a company in which Talansky had a stake at the time. Talansky himself is thought to be behind the letter, which did not result in purchase orders.

Sources said that Adelson, who owns the free Israeli daily Yisrael Hayom and is close to former prime minister and Likud Chairman Benjamin Netanyahu, was hard put to remember the letter and Olmert's request.

On Monday, police detectives waited for Abraham outside his Jerusalem hotel and questioned him about his relationship with Olmert and money he allegedly transferred to the prime minister years ago. In January 2004, Abraham purchased Olmert's former home on Kaf Tet Benovember Street in Jerusalem. Abraham made his fortune as a founder of Slim Fast, and in 1989 he founded the Center for Middle East Peace & Economic Cooperation, which he bankrolls. [I believe that he has also bankrolled the 'Peres Center for Peace.' CiJ]

Israeli law-enforcement authorities on Tuesday confirmed that both Adelson and Abraham were questioned by police in connection with the investigation but emphasized that they are not suspects and that their statements were intended to establish Olmert's pattern of behavior and that he acted in Talansky's favor.

Earlier on Tuesday, detectives from the police's National Fraud Unit raided offices at the Trade and Industry Ministry in their widening search for a paper trail showing the alleged money trail between Talansky and Olmert. Police did not raid the minister's office, as they did in a previous search in a different Olmert investigation, focusing instead on the ministry's correspondence archive.

In addition to carting away documents, detectives on Tuesday attempted to restore data from ministry computers. Olmert headed the ministry from 2003 to 2006, before he became prime minister.

On Monday, the police searched Jerusalem municipal offices looking for evidence of alleged compensation provided by Olmert to Talansky in exchange for cash sums Olmert is suspected of receiving from Talansky during Olmert's 10-year tenure as the capital's mayor. One suspicion is that Olmert ordered the installation of speed bumps on the street where Talansky's children and grandchildren live after the businessman-philanthropist asked him to intervene.


The state on Tuesday asked the Jerusalem District Court to take a statement from Talansky as soon as possible, in light of the fact that the order preventing Talansky from leaving the country expires on May 21.
It should be a hot summer.


At 11:17 AM, Blogger NormanF said...

Ehud Olmert has it figured out. He'll release his version of the "understandings" with the Palestinians and they'll be free to release their version of them. But that's not the same as an "agreement." He's not fooling any one - not the Americans, not the Palestinians and not the Israeli public. Olmert has become the Walter Mitty of Israeli politics. And there's not just the difference between the two sides that's holding up an agreements, there's Olmert's ethical and legal problems stemming from the Talansky scandal that limit his political maneuvering room. When all is said and done, Olmert faces a long summer with nothing in the cards to save him from a looming indictment. Which will happen if he can't give away the store before then.


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