US Sponsors Israel-Palestinian Peace Talks from Position of Weakness

The US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice stopped off in Baghdad Sat. Feb. 17, for an unscheduled visit, interrupting the journey she was making to Jerusalem for a fresh push to Israel-Palestinian diplomacy.
She knew as well as the American commanders on the ground that, at this early stage, no progress was to be expected in the joint US-Iraqi security offensive launched last week against Iraq’s insurgents and militias. However, she felt the need to beat up a semblance of momentum on one other US Middle East front in order to enhance her position in the coming tripartite conference Monday, Feb. 19, with prime minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas.
Rice meets Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni Saturday night and Olmert Sunday.
It is clear to all three parties meeting Monday that they will be negotiating from a position of weakness. Washington is sponsoring Israeli and Palestinian leaders who are on their way out; their influence at home is waning and they have little to offer for enlivening the peace track. The US secretary will listen as usual.
Where dynamic activity is to be seen – as so often these days – is in Tehran. Syrian ruler Bashar Assad made a point of starting two days of talks in the Iranian capital “to strengthen bilateral relations” on the day of Rice’s arrival in the region.
Both the Syrian and Iranian governments are heavily involved in thwarting US policy goals on both the Iraqi and the Israel-Palestinian fronts. The Tehran talks are expected to yield more of the same. Assad’s delegation to Tehran included Syria’s former ambassador to Washington, the current foreign minister Walid Moalam, who is reputed to be the most pro-American member of Assad’s government. This was meant as a Syrian-Iranian taunt to show the US, Israeli and Palestinian officials meeting Monday who is calling the shots in the Middle East.
In Beirut Friday, Hizballah’s Hassan Nasrallah declared bald-facedly that weapons are still flowing into Lebanon from Syria and his forces, in South Lebanon too, were rearming. This was another taunt, demonstrating the futility of the UN Security Council resolution 1701 which halted the Hizballah-Israeli hostilities of July-Aug 2006, expanded the UN peacekeepers force, banned the flow of arms to Hizballah and was supposed to demilitarize the south under Lebanese army and UNIFIL control.
A bare seven months after the Lebanon War’s end, Nasrallah stood up to expose the loss of American and Israeli deterrent leverage for affecting the situation in South Lebanon
Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad wound up the effort to sabotage Rice’s mission. He goaded Washington by informing the outgoing Lebanese ambassador to Tehran Adnan Mansour Friday, Feb. 16, that “Iran and Lebanon are limbs of the same body, but unfortunately the Lebanese part is wounded.” His words were released by the Iranian national news agency IRNA.
debkafile‘s Middle East sources note this was the first time a senior Iranian statesman has frankly included Lebanon in the area of influence to which Tehran aspires. Iran’s expansionist ambitions have already produced thrusting offensives with regard to the Palestinians and Iraq. Tehran is in the process of carving out a crescent of Iranian domination that aims at sweeping up Iraq after the American withdrawal, just like Lebanon after Israel’s defeat in the 2006 war. After that, the Palestinians will be sucked willy-nilly into the Iranian orbit.
Our sources do not see the Rice-Olmert-Abbas conference providing any obstacles to Tehran’s driving ambition. In advance of the event, President George W. Bush phoned Olmert to ask about further Israeli concessions to the Palestinians as incentives to keep them moving along the diplomatic track. He himself had no new ideas. The prime minister replied that Israel stood by the Middle East Quartet’s terms for recognizing any Palestinian government – renunciation of violence, acceptance of previous accords, including peace agreements and recognition of the Jewish state.
However, the Quartet’s Palestinian policy was in fact trashed in Mecca ten days ago, when the Saudi king forged a pact with the Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniyeh on terms that excluded all three of its conditions – a pact Washington was helpless to avert.
With these prospects in view, it is not surprising that many US policy-makers including State Department officials advised Condoleezza Rice to call off her Middle East trip and her date with the Israeli and Palestinian leaders.

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