Bush Overrules Rice on Middle East Conference
Late last week, President George W. Bush finally came down against his Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice‘s conception of the Middle East peace conference she is trying to convene before the end of the 2007.
(See DEBKA-Net-Weekly 321 of Oct. 12: Before and after Annapolis)
The emissary the White House chose to deliver the presidential decision to the Israelis and the Palestinians was Stephen Hadley, head of the National Security Council, DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Washington sources report. His talks last week with Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert in Jerusalem and with Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah aroused little interest internationally or even locally – in reverse proportion to the weight of his mission, which was to shrink the content, format and expectations of the coming international peace conference.
He reported to both that Bush had decided:
1. No working papers or American bridging proposals would be presented before or during the Annapolis conference on core issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, i.e. borders, Jerusalem, Palestinian refugees and the war on terror.
2. Washington had no intention of imposing solutions or formulae either on Israel or the Palestinians.
3. The two sides must negotiate on their own without preset deadlines.
4. The Americans would be there to assist them both in the course of conference debates, but would not be an active participant.
These decisions mean that the Bush administration is pulling in its horns over the peace conference in support of Olmert’s narrow approach and in diametric opposition to Rice’s much bigger perception of the event as the starting-point for intensive and substantive Israel-Palestinian negotiations towards the establishment of a Palestinian state within a given timeline.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Palestinian sources learn that Abbas is denigrating the US Secretary of State’s approach in private conversations with his Palestinian colleagues. “After many years, I find myself forced to be a teacher,” he told one. “I have to find a way of teaching Rice the meaning of a final-status settlement in the Middle East.”
Palestinian terrorists concerned with massive corruption more than statehood
Our sources also reveal that the two US officials who visited Ramallah Thursday, Nov. 1, carried a message from Rice advising prime minister Salam Fayyad to keep aloof from peace diplomacy. They informed him of intelligence received that Hamas was contemplating his assassination to coincide with the Annapolis meeting as the personification of American involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly, US intelligence officers who secretly interviewed wanted Palestinian terrorists on the West Bank last week were shocked to hear how little they were interested in peace diplomacy or the prospect of Palestinian statehood.
The men on Israel’s wanted list emphasized that they were concerned most of all by the colossal level of corruption in the Palestinian leadership, which they said was unparalleled anywhere in the Middle East.
Tuesday, Oct. 30, Mahmoud Abbas conferred with Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak in Cairo and said he was deeply disappointed in the US president’s departure from the position presented to him by Condoleezza Rice. He said he was suspending his ongoing conversations with Olmert and expected to drop them altogether. He said he saw no point in the conference after Olmert informed him at their last interview Sunday, Oct. 28, that it would set no deadlines for future negotiations.
Mubarak advised the Palestinian leader to ask Rice when she arrives in the Middle East Saturday, Nov. 3, to give up the Annapolis project altogether.
As things stand now, there is no way for Saudi Arabia to attend. This was made clear by King Abdullah himself Monday, Oct. 29, during his three-day state visit to Britain.
He said: “Arabs want their legitimate rights rather than concessions from Israel. We are people with rights and we demand our rights.”
For months now, Riyadh has made no bones about missing Annapolis unless it promises to seriously address key issue of the Israel-Palestinian dispute and pass substantive resolutions – as we have reported in previous issues.
And if the Saudis stay away, most Gulf and Muslim governments will follow their lead.