Bush reconvenes Abbas and Olmert to launch negotiations – U.S. General to arbitrate

The Israeli media is reporting that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas have been called to the White House later Wednesday for some kind of formal or “ceremonial” launch of the agreed direct negotiations.

Haaretz reports that “U.S. President George W. Bush invited the pair to the White House to ceremonially inaugurate the first formal, direct negotiations in seven years. Bush planned to meet separately with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday, then Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and finally to get them together for an afternoon session and declaring the talks formally under way. Israel and the Palestinians will begin final-status negotiations on December 12 … Both sides agreed that Washington will determine whether those obligations have been fulfilled. Bush has chosen General Jim Jones, a former commander of both NATO and the American forces in Europe, to serve as the arbiter, and Jones is due to arrive in the region in the coming days“… The Haaretz report of the formal launch of direct negotiations later today is here.

This same Haaretz story reports that “Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni urged the Arab states to ‘get off the fence’ and understand that normalization is not a prize for Israel. She proposed normalization in stages. Addressing the Palestinians, she urged them to stop mourning Israel’s establishment and instead build a state of their own“.

In an interesting behind-the-scenes story, Haaretz reports separately that “The joint Israeli-Palestinian declaration issued at Annapolis Tuesday was completed less than half an hour beforehand, Israeli and Palestinian sources told Haaretz. According to the Palestinian sources, yet another round of Israeli-Palestinian talks on the document broke off at midnight on Monday with no results. At that point, Saeb Erekat replaced Ahmed Qureia, the head of the Palestinian negotiating team, and the talks resumed, but still no progress was made. The next morning, after the parties already had landed in Annapolis, the talks continued. Finally, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice took Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas out of a three-way meeting with U.S. President George Bush and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and pressured him to approve the draft document, the sources said. Eventually, he did so, enabling Bush to read it to the conference. The Israeli sources noted that Bush was clearly pushing for the document: At his three-way meeting with Abbas and Olmert Tuesday morning, they said, the first words out of his mouth were, ‘What’s happening with the joint declaration?’ But the Israelis had a different version of what had happened: They said the Monday night talks with Erekat produced several agreements, but the next morning, the Palestinians changed their mind. That, said the Israelis, already had happened several times during talks on the declaration, but they were shocked that the Palestinians were doing it again at this late date and on such fundamental issues as a timetable for negotiations and reference to the road map peace plan. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who headed the Israeli team, lost her temper and told Qureia to ‘take it or get lost’, the sources said. As the difficulties mounted, there were also fierce arguments within the Israeli team: Livni very much wanted a joint declaration, but some members of the team said it was ‘a waste of time’, and suggested she forget about it. Olmert, however, sided with Livni, and the Americans’ determination tipped the scales…” A Haaretz report on last-minute manoeuvers is here.

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