Musing on Bush in Jerusalem – by Uri Avnery

Uri Avnery writes this week about the Bush-Olmert relationship as seen last week during Bush’s visit to Jerusalem:

“WHICH OF the two men is the leader of the greatest power on earth and which is the boss of a small client state? A visitor from another planet, attending the press conference in Jerusalem, would find it hard not to answer: Olmert is the president of the great power, Bush is his vassal. Olmert is taller. He talked endlessly, while Bush listened patiently. While Olmert anointed Bush with flattery that would have made a Byzantine emperor blush, it was quite clear that it is Olmert who decides policy, while Bush humbly accepts the Israeli diktat. And Bush’s flattery of Olmert exceeded even Olmert’s flattery of Bush. Both, we learned, are ‘courageous’. Both are ‘determined’. Both have a ‘vision’. The word ‘vision’, once reserved for prophets, starred in every second sentence. (Bush could not know that in Israel, ‘vision’ has long become a jocular appellation for highfaluting speeches, usually in combination with the word ‘Zionism’.) The President and the Prime Minister have something else in common: not a word of what they said at the press conference had any connection with the truth … BUT ONE cannot fool all of the people all of the time, to quote another American President who was slightly more intelligent than the present incumbent. And so, after Olmert and Bush repeated the mantra about removing the outposts and freezing the settlements, one of the journalists popped an innocent question: How does this fit together with the announcement about the building of a huge new housing project at Har Homa? If anyone thought that this would embarrass Olmert, he was sadly mistaken. Olmert just cannot be embarrassed. He simply answered that this promise does not apply to Jerusalem, nor to the ‘Jewish population centers’ beyond the Green Line. ‘Jerusalem’ – since the time of Levy Eshkol – is not only the Old City and the Holy Basin. It is the huge tract of land annexed to Israel after the Six-Day War, from the approaches to Bethlehem to the outskirts of Ramallah. This area includes the hill that was once forested and called Jebel Abu-Ghneim, now the site of the big and ugly Har Homa settlement. And the ‘population centers’ are the big settlement blocs in the occupied Palestinian territories, which President Bush so generously presented to Ariel Sharon. This means that almost all the extensive building activities that are now going on beyond the Green Line are not covered by the Israeli undertaking to freeze the settlements. And while Olmert publicly announced this, President Bush was standing at his side, smiling foolishly and painting on another layer of compliments. The following day, Bush visited Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah and told the shocked Palestinians that the innumerable Israeli roadblocks in the West Bank, which turn the life of the Palestinians into hell, are necessary for the protection of Israel and must remain where they are – until after the establishment of the hoped-for democratic Palestinian state. Condoleezza Rice was quick to remind him in private that this was not very wise, since he was about to visit half a dozen Arab countries. So Bush hastened to call another press conference in Jerusalem, talking about the ‘core issues’: there would be a ‘contiguous’ Palestinian state, but the 1949 borders (the Green Line) would not be restored. He would not speak about Jerusalem. Also, the refugee problem would be settled by an international fund – meaning that none at all would be allowed to return. Altogether, much less than Bill Clinton’s 2000 ‘parameters’, and less than most Israelis are already prepared to accept. It amounts to 110% support for the official Israeli government line…”

And, it should be recalled that Olmert’s spokesman Mark Regev said, in a wrap-up press conference on Friday morning, that Israel, too, should have “contiguity” with its “large population centers” that just so happen to be in occupied Palestinian West Bank territory...

Abbas-Olmert "summit" on Israeli settlements set for Thursday

Haaretz says that a “summit” between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to discuss Israeli settlement activities will be held on Thursday 27 December.

Haaretz reports that “Official sources in Jerusalem say the Har Homa imbroglio is the result of a decision by low-ranking government bureaucrats in the Housing Ministry. They say that Olmert was not informed of the decision in advance, but on the international front, these explanations do not seem to be enlisting much support. Moreover, the Har Homa affair exposed the differences in the perceptions that both parties adhere to. As far as Israel is concerned, the neighborhood is an integral part of unified Jerusalem, and not part of the territories. Construction at Har Homa is not subject to the same bureaucratic maze that any construction in the territories – be it a house, shack or electricity line – must endure before it is approved. The Palestinians and their supporters in the international community do not make that distinction. To them, any Israeli construction east of the Green Line, which was Israel’s border before the 1967 Six-Day War, is an illegal settlement. They treat construction in East Jerusalem much the same as they treat construction in the settlement blocs in the West Bank. To the Palestinians, construction in the territories is an obstacle to peace and an act that jeopardizes the negotiations. In addition, the Palestinians realize that Israel – which is expecting its first visit by U.S. President George W. Bush next month – is at a disadvantage internationally as far as settlements are concerned. Their objective is to dominate the headlines until Bush arrives. But the problem goes deeper than head-butting in the media. Israel has demanded that the Palestinians fulfill their duties according to the road map plan for peace, which the U.S. devised for both parties. But Israel has failed to meet its own obligations such as the evacuation of settlements, a total freeze on all construction in the territories and allowing the Palestinians to reopen their institutions in East Jerusalem”… The Haaretz report on Thursday’s Abbas-Olmert “summit” is here.