Haaretz is reporting today that “The leaders of Israel, the Palestinian Authority and the United States are expected to hold a joint meeting during President George W. Bush’s visit here next week, in an effort to accelerate negotiations on the conflict’s core issues – borders, refugees, and Jerusalem. Bush will visit Israel and the Palestinian Authority next Wednesday and Thursday as part of a regional tour that will cover seven states in nine days. The main focus of the president’s talks will be the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and the Iranian nuclear program … In addition to the political meetings, Bush is also scheduled to meet President Shimon Peres to discuss joint economic and development projects between Israel, the PA, Jordan and other countries.” This report in Haaretz can be read in its entirety here.
So, the Israeli side prefers to discuss Iran … and Shimon Peres will talk about his Joint Industrial Zones project, again …
You can see why, when you read this report from Khaled Abu Toameh in the Jerusalem Post today: “In an interview with The Jerusalem Post published Monday, Olmert made it clear that he did not envisage a permanent accord along the 1967 lines, adding that his primary responsibility as prime minister lay in ensuring a ‘separation’ from the Palestinians. ‘I don’t think when people are talking about settlements they are talking about Ma’aleh Adumim’, Olmert said. Asked to comment on Olmert’s statements, a top PA official in Ramallah said, ‘Olmert must be living on another planet. Peace and settlements don’t go together. If this is his policy, he can forget about finding a partner on the Palestinian side’.”
This report in the JPost added that “Chief PA negotiator Saeb Erekat dismissed Olmert’s use of the word ‘separation’, asking, ‘What does Olmert want to separate from? This term is being used for internal Israeli purposes. We insist on a full withdrawal from the Palestinian territories’. Erekat, too, called for an end to construction work in all settlements, including Ma’aleh Adumim, warning that Israel‘s policy of settlement construction would sabotage the peace process. Erekat said the only way to achieve real peace was by ensuring a full Israeli withdrawal to the pre-1967 borders, including east Jerusalem. ‘The Israeli leadership should start preparing the Israeli public for peace by declaring that the time has come for real peace’, Erekat added. ‘Israel should first withdraw to the pre-1967 borders and solve all the final-status issues. Then Israel should also withdraw from Syrian and Lebanese territories’.” This report in the JPost is published here.
The JPost has a rather silly piece today reporting that U.S. President George Bush will not visit Arafat’s tomb, and will not lay a wreath on Arafat’s tomb, when he visits Israel and the West Bank from 9-11 or 12 January. The JPost reporter, Khaled Abu Toameh, said that “Palestinian Authority officials on Monday expressed deep disappointment”, but he eventually added that “they were not surprised”. Of course not! Nobody would expect Bush to do anything of the sort. Khaled Abu Toameh, however, keeps going, and is not in the least embarassed. He added: “Bush, who is also expected to visit Jericho and Bethlehem, does not even plan to pass near the tomb … The official said the PA leadership had decided not to make a big issue out of the visit to Arafat’s mausoleum to avoid creating a crisis with the US.”.
This is a totally hyped angle. The JPost piece is posted here.
IMEMC, meanwhile, reported an interesting bit of news: “Yasser Abed Rabbo, the secretary general of the executive committee in the Palestinian Liberation organization, PLO, stated on Monday that the PLO National Council will meet soon and all Palestinians are invited to join”.
What does that mean — all Palestinians are invited to join??? It’s true, there are already something like 600 members, but they have been selected in various ways. Does he mean Hamas? Negotiations have been going on for a year or more on bringing Hamas into the PLO. But, the big problem seems to be how many, or what percentage, of the PNC seats they will be awarded. Hamas says they should be given seats in the PNA in corresponding proportion to the number of seats they won in the Palestinian Legislative Council. But Mahmoud Abbas and others have rejected this out of hand. In this case, Abbas may be right — the PNC is supposed to represent all the Palestinians, whether in the occupied West Bank and Gaza, or in neighboring countries, or even around the world. Hamas’ electoral victory was only in the West Bank and Gaza, and the percentage of seats they should get in the PNC should be pro-rated by calculating not only what they won in the PLC elections, but then divided in half — because the number of Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza is about half of the total estimated number of Palestinians on earth.
The IMEMC piece reported that Abed Rabbo “added that the current council will meet in January 2008 in the central West Bank city of Ramallah, and on the agenda there will be discussions about forming a new council. In addition Abed Rabo stated that the council is open for all Palestinians to join. The Palestinian official also said that the council will keep its commitments to the Palestinian National demands and will keep the original demands of the PLO which were first made when the organization was founded in 1988. Abed Rabo assured that the council will make 2008 the year in which Palestinians will get their rights and have an independent Palestinian state through negotiations. He added that the negotiations will be based on the Palestinians National demands and will not be changed”. This IMEMC reportage is posted here.
It’s not yet clear what U.S. President George W. Bush will do, exactly, when he visits Israel — and the Palestinian Authority — in ten days’ time.
PalPress news agency reported from Ramallah on Sunday that “The local Palestinian newspaper Al Quds reported today that President Mahoud Abbas will send Member of the PLO Executive Committee Yasser Abd Rabo and Akram Haniyah to Washington ahead of Bush’s scheduled visit to the Palestinian territories. The newspaper pointed out that the aim behind this visit is to confirm on the Palestinian national constants regarding several issues most important of which is ceasing settlement activities which are considered the main obstacle in the way of any peace negotiations. The two Palestinian envoys will clarify the stance of the Palestinian issues over several other issues (such as prisoners, barriers, IDs, etc) in addition to other issues expected to be discussed during Abbas – Bush meeting. Al Quds newspaper revealed that the US President George W. Bush will arrive to Israel on the ninth of January and he is scheduled to meet in the next day with President Abbas in the headquarters of the [Muqata’a] Compound of Ramallah. Bush is also expected to visit Jericho and Hisham castle, he will also inspect the Municipality Library a US sponsored project.”
U.S. President Bush told journalists in Washington today that he was travelling to the region to bolster Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, and the support of Arab countries for the process. He predicted that “it’s gonna be a great trip”.
Yesterday, the BBC reported that “In Jerusalem, Mr Bush will meet Israeli President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said. He will hold talks in the West Bank with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and his Prime Minister, Salam Fayyad. However, there are no plans for a meeting bringing together all three parties”. The BBC report is here.
Personally, I just don’t see how Bush is going to be able to enter and travel around the West Bank. One of the Israeli papers reported that it has been ruled out that Bush will travel around be helicopter — he will go by car on the roads. But, he certainly will not be given a rousing welcome …