debkafile: Washington announces a Middle East conference “later this fall” amid reports of a tendency to postpone the event for a year

In an communique released to the media Sunday, Nov. 18, the US President and Secretary of State announced they would host a Middle East conference with the support of prime minister of Israel Ehud Olmert and President of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas later this fall. There was no mention of invitations or when they would be sent out. The date and the time of the meeting will be announced subsequently. Therefore, the state department would like the accreditation process to begin. When the date is finalized, arrangements for collecting accreditation will be announced. A senior US official told debkafile Sunday night that, even if the meeting does take place – on Tues. Nov. 27 as presumed in the Middle East – it will be no better than a “Potiomkin village-type” facade behind which a sham peace conference plays out.
Our Washington sources report that in recent conversations, Rice confessed to overrating the chances of bringing the Israelis and Palestinians together on joint statements and that, at best, they would agree to carry on talking.
The Secretary had no solution for the Gaza situation and the Hamas takeover of government there. The administration would try and put the Bush two-state vision to the test in the course of 2008, but she already understands that the process will pass to the next US president as a vision rather than reality.
Rice said she would try and persuade some Arab governments to make token gestures towards Israel. But she could not explain how Mahmoud Abbas’ flat opposition to any such Arab gestures could be overcome.
All the Secretary of State was able to extract from the two parties, she said, was their consent for the first time to implement the first clause of the Road Map independently and irrespective of whether the other side carried out its part.
The Palestinians accordingly agreed to disband terrorist structures on the West Bank, while Israel agreed to freeze settlement activity.
Prime minister Olmert also said Israel’s military would withdraw to the positions it held on Sept. 28, 2000, prior to the Palestinian uprising, although this step was contingent on security.
Palestinian interior minister Abd Razzak Yihye vowed Sunday to go ahead and dismantle all the armed militias, i.e. Hamas, Jihad Islami and the radical Fronts. Abbas’ Fatah-Tanzim leadership declared Hamas on the West Bank “a cancer to be rooted out.”
Hamas and Jihad Islami fought back on the instant by establishing a joint command for their West Bank forces, calling it “Guardians of the Walls.” The Popular Front joined the terrorist coalition after its gunmen were attacked by Palestinian security forces in the Al Ain district of Nablus. All three announced they would forcibly resist any attempt to disband them.
debkafile‘s Washington sources reported earlier:
The growing tendency to postpone the event was further spurred last week by urgent private messages from Saudi Arabia and Jordan. They warned the administration that, if the Annapolis conference were to be staged as a photo-op lasting a few hours and sidestepped the core issues of the Israel-Palestinian conflict, Jerusalem, borders and refugees, as Olmert plans, serious damage would blow back on the Muslim governments which backed the US against Iran.
State Department officials advised Rice to reply that calling off the conference would reflect badly on the US government, showing it to be short of the clout for convening a meeting of anti-Iran Sunni Arab rulers.

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