Condoleezza Rice ends visit to Israel early Tuesday, leaves for Washington

debkafile Reports: In talks with Palestinian and Israeli leaders Rice launched her Middle East initiative based on promoting the Saudi peace plan and initiating shuttle diplomacy between Israel and the Palestinians. She sold Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert and foreign minister Tzipi Livni her bid to promote US-Israeli-Arab dialogue based on Arab summit resolutions. Hamas will be part of the Palestinian government delegation to the summit.
Rice warned Israel it would be left trailing far behind the momentum she and the Saudis kicked off and isolated with its anti-Hamas boycott.
When she dined with Olmert in Jerusalem Sunday night, March 25, Rice urged the Israeli government to accept the joint US-Saudi plan. In the bustle surrounding the bid, Livni has not been seen or heard.
The “Arab mechanism” device opens up a US-Arab channel that bypasses direct Israel-Palestinian negotiations and circles round the impasse posed by Hamas’ refusal to recognize Israel and renounce violence. The Palestinian delegation at the March 28-29 Arab summit will be led by Mahmoud Abbas, chairman of the Palestinian Authority, and Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniyeh. The delegation will be asked to vote for the re-launched Saudi peace plan on behalf of the Palestinian government.
Legalistic quibbling aside, the Mecca reconciliation deal between Hamas and Fatah may not end up in their reconciliation, but led up to this point: it established the momentum for bringing Hamas through the back door onto the Arab side of the negotiating table – first with the US, then Israel.
Syria is being wooed to make Arab summit endorsement of the Saudi plan unanimous. The Damascus-sponsored Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal was summoned to Riyadh Friday, March 23, in a bid to secure his support for the US-Arab track promoted by Rice and the Saudis.
Rice, who holds talks with Jordan’s King Abdullah in Amman Monday, is shuttling busily to push the Saudi peace plan as a basis for peace negotiations, even though Riyadh and the Arab League adamantly reject any modifications.
There are big differences between the Rice shuttle today and the Kissinger shuttles of the 1970s. Henry Kissinger, then US secretary of state, took advantage of Israel’s setback in the 1973 Yom Kippur war to secure a partial Israel-Egyptian settlement. But before leaning on Egypt and Syria, he gave Israel time and the chance to recover and turn the tide of war in its favor by a surprise military crossing of the Suez into Egypt.
Rice, too, seeks to exploit Israel’s debacle in Lebanon, but her way differs from that of her predecessor in two crucial respects:
1. The Bush administration is not offering Israel time or a chance to restore its bargaining leverage by means of a second military action against Hizballah and Syria. The Olmert government is being hustled into a negotiating process in which Israel will stand alone against adversaries without choices or diplomatic leeway.
2. By throwing all its diplomatic and military clout behind the Saudi peace plan, Washington places Jerusalem in a take-it-or-leave it vice: Taking it means shrinking Israel back to the pre-1967 lines and giving up the long-promised “secure and recognizable boundaries;” losing historic Jerusalem and settling millions of Palestinian refugees in its attenuated territory.
Rejecting the Saudi plan would entail a showdown with Washington.
To talk Israel round, the US secretary is presenting the US-Saudi initiative as a component of her government’s master plan for Iran. This takes the wind out of the sails of prime minister Olmert and foreign minister Livni, who have consistently relegated the Iranian nuclear issue to the care of the US and international community.
There is no progress on the release of the Israeli soldier Gilead Shalit or even access to him after nine months.

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