debkafile Exclusive: Bowing to Washington, Olmert agrees to go directly and unconditionally to final-status talks with Palestinians
Prime minister Ehud Olmert conceded key Israeli policy points in his talks with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in Jerusalem Sunday, March 11, according to debkafile‘s Middle East and Washington sources – contrary to advance statements from his office that the meeting was only a formality.
Last week, Bush administration officials notified Olmert’s senor aides Yoram Turbovitch and Shalom Turjman in Washington that the wait for the Palestinians to comply with roadmap conditions to recognize Israel and renounce violence was at an end. Whether a Palestinian government was led by Hamas or shared with Fatah, they were told, Israel must now initiate final settlement talks with Abbas. Saudi and Jordanian leaders had won President George W. Bush over on this point as leverage for cooperation on the Iraq and Iranian issues..
At the Sunday cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, the prime minister therefore announced he was seriously considering accepting the 2002 Saudi peace plan. He already knew the Saudis had informed the White House that the plan would not be revised at the coming Arab summit in Riyadh on March 28.
This means that Olmert has agreed to rescind the road map’s conditions for peace talks in favor of the tough Saudi peace plan.
It was left to Abbas to run down for Olmert’s benefit the steps expected from Israel, now that the road map’s provisions were out of the way:
1. The Israeli government must pledge unconditionally that the IDF will refrain from attacking the Gaza Strip. Abbas called this “a mutual ceasefire” although he offered no guarantee for the Palestinian termination of missile fire or other terrorist attacks emanating form the Gaza Strip.
After the Olmert-Abbas talks, Israeli officials spread reports of an Israel military alert in the area around the Gaza Strip in an effort to lay a smokescreen to conceal the prime minister’s concession.
2. Abbas said he would do his best to obtain the release of Hamas hostage Gilead Shalit, but offered no promises.
3. The “mutual ceasefire” is the first step to fast-track Israel-Palestinian negotiations on its extension to the West Bank.
debkafile reports that Israeli military and intelligence chiefs are trying to impress on the prime minister that the cessation of Israel’s intense counter-terror operations on the West Bank will result in an eruption of a fresh wave of Palestinian suicide bombings inside Israel and the transfer of Palestinian missiles and rockets to launching positions opposite central Israel, including its main cities.
4. Security restrictions on Palestinian movements in the West Bank must be further relaxed.
5. In May or June of 2007, Israel will enter into direct negotiations with the Palestinians on a final -status framework.
Since the road map was formulated, Abbas has lobbied hard to skip the document’s prior condition for an end to Palestinian violence as the sine qua non for talks on a final settlement. Now the Palestinian leader has got is way.
6. Abbas voiced the hope that Israel’s flexibility in negotiating with the Palestinians would be rewarded by the willingness of “moderate” Arab and Muslim nations, like Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Malaysia and Indonesia, to establish diplomatic and open economic relations with the Jewish state.
debkafile‘s sources note that the Olmert-Abbas conversation did not discuss the role to be played by Hamas in the diplomatic process dictated the Israeli government, when it heads the Palestinian government. Also left up in the air was the framework in which the moderate Arab and Muslim governments would “normalize” their relations with Israel. This would call for amendments of the Saudi peace plan. However, Riyadh has informed Washington that no such amendments would be tabled at the coming Arab summit.