“The Quartet welcomed the efforts of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to form a government of national unity, in the hope that the platform of such a government would reflect Quartet principles and allow for early engagement.”

Statement of the Quartet – 20 September 2006

A Fiasco.

Without any advance warning, the United States, through the Quartet, radically changed its position on Palestinian compliance.

The Quartet no longer requires Palestinian compliance. It only “hopes” for it.

In the days leading up to this shocking development, foreign minister Tzipi Livni held meetings with literally every important American official – including President Bush and Secretary of State Rice. But despite these meetings Livni apparently had no idea that this dramatic policy change was in the works.

This morning the domestic spin, as presented by Minister Ronnie Bar-On in an interview on Israel Radio, was to deny that anything happened.

And there certainly is a logic to this approach.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s principle advisors are advertising men. These folks are experts in marketing politicians and toothpaste – not international relations. And the advertising men rightly figure that if Israeli officials don’t follow up on the Quartet Statement that the story won’t have legs – thus limiting the current damage the story would have done to Olmert.

The problem is, of course, that while the story may have died, the consequences haven’t. It is only a matter of time before the downgrading of Palestinian compliance from a requirement to a “hope” gains expression in the policies and actions of the Quartet members.

What could the Olmert team have done if their priority was the future of Israel rather than Olmert’s standing in overnight polling?

Instead of trying to kill the story, the team should have developed it.

The prime minister knows how to phone leading American Jewish leaders, politicians and columnists when he wants to.

FM Livni, who was literally at the scene of the crime, had ample opportunities to let the media know about Israel’s concerns before returning home.

It may be still not too late to pick up the ball.

What’s to be gained by making an issue of it?

Let’s not forget that this is an election year in the United States, and this policy shift is hardly something for the White House to be proud of.

Prompt action could very well lead to “clarifying remarks” to turn Palestinian compliance back into a requirement rather than just a “hope”.

In the least, by identifying itself as the injured party, Israel could expect to gain some form of diplomatic compensation for the American breach of trust.