When push comes to shove: Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy
Posted by Jeffrey Heller
With the clock winding down on his scandal-plagued tenure as Israel’s prime minister, Ehud Olmert wanted to get perhaps a final message across in his talks this weekend with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Catching the usually taciturn Palestinian leader off-guard at a so-called photo opportunity at the start of their Jerusalem meeting, Olmert locked Abbas in a handshake, gestured emphatically with his other hand and boomed: “We have to
complete the Annapolis process this year — this year.”
Such occasions are usually much more muted and diplomatic — leaders smile for the cameras, exchange niceties, or agree beforehand to make brief statements to the gathered media.
But time is running out for both Olmert and the target date — the end of 2008 — which the United States set at the Annapolis peace conference last November for an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.
Olmert, under police investigation for alleged corruption, has said he would resign once his Kadima party picks his successor in a leadership election on Sept. 17, although he could stay on as caretaker prime minister for weeks or months until a new government is formed.
There have been few signs of progress in Israel’s talks with Abbas’s Palestinian Authority on at least a framework for a statehood deal. Abbas, along with some of Olmert’s cabinet colleagues, are cool to the idea of pushing through a preliminary peace deal simply to meet Washington’s goal of an agreement by year’s end.
Olmert might have thought that a little physical nudge to Abbas — with the hint of a suggestion that his partner in the peace dialogue was dragging his feet — couldn’t hurt.
After Sunday’s talks, Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said Abbas was still committed to reaching a comprehensive peace deal, while dismissing a proposal raised by unidentified Israeli officials for at least a partial accord before the Kadima vote.
By locking Abbas in his grasp, Olmert conjured up memories of one diplomatic dance that did not bode well for Middle East peace.
It was at the July 2000 Camp David talks, when Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat playfully — but somewhat forcefully — engaged in an “after you”, “no, after you” shoving match at a doorway.
I don’t recall who won, but both sides lost when those negotiations ended in failure and were followed by years of violence.