Jerusalem – Israel Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced on Wednesday he would be traveling to Washington to meet with President George W. Bush.
A statement issued by the Israel Prime Minister’s Office indicated the meeting likely would happen soon, but no specific date was cited.
The assessment in Jerusalem is that the meeting would be held immediately after next week’s presidential election.
Despite the fact that it will between two departing heads of state who are in a transition period, the Israel Prime Minister’s Office maintains this is not merely a “farewell” gift that Mr. Olmert arranged for himself but, rather, a “meeting of political importance.”
Mr. Olmert and Mr. Bush would like to present a joint agreement of principles with the Palestinians that could serve as the basis for a final status arrangement, with a Palestinian state in the 1967 borders.
However, Mr. Olmert’s more senior partners in the government (his successor as leader of the Kadima Party, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, and Labor Party Chairman, Defense Minister Ehud Barak), not to mention the opposition, are against Mr. Olmert’s advancing any meaningful political program in the current period.
“A government that in substance is a transition government has certain restrictions,” Mr. Barak said on Wednesday. “In peace processes, it is all right to continue with talks, but it is impossible to reach decisions and it is impossible to initial agreements – either with Syria or with the Palestinians. Those are things that a ruling government needs to do.”
In the absence of a written agreement, President Bush would like to have both sides issue a joint statement whereby they would persevere with Annapolis process into 2009 and to aspire to reach a Israeli-Palestinian agreement.
Ms. Livni considers herself to be committed to the Annapolis process, but she is not prepared to commit to a deadline for talks.
“In practice, a majority of the public and leadership is party to the choice of a peace process in which Israel insists on its security and national needs and promotes the vision of two states,” she said during a Wednesday meeting.
In a reality in which the three leaders – Mr. Olmert, Mr. Bush and Mr. Abbas – are facing elections in their own countries, the chances of reaching a breakthrough in the negotiations are slim. Mr. Olmert is going to have to make do with an aspiration to achieve a joint Israeli-Palestinian statement that would reflect the degree to which the two parties have advanced toward one another.
There will not be a any formal agreement with the Palestinians.
However, if the Palestinians accept some of the offers that were made by Mr. Olmert, including some on re issues, it is going to be very difficult for whoever happens to succeed Mr. Olmert to ignore those offers.
“We won’t reach an agreement but we will make efforts to advance as much as possible and to close the gaps between us,” said aides to Mr. Olmert. “Even in this period, when both Mr. Bush and Mr. Olmert are about to leave office, they will act to bring the negotiations with the Palestinians and the Syrians to an optimal point. This opportunity mustn’t be missed. There might not be an agreement, but understandings can certainly be reached.”
Mr. Bush and Mr. Olmert are also expected to discuss the Iranian nuclear program. Mr. Olmert will ask Mr. Bush to underscore before the next U.S. administration the threatening danger posed by Tehran.
Mr. Bush’s invitation of Mr. Olmert to Washington could be complicated by the fact he is now under multiple criminal investigations for alleged felonious activities.
Israeli criminal law forbids anyone under criminal investigation from leaving the country, and Israeli citizens under criminal investigation must surrender their passport.
In order for an Israeli citizen under police investigation to pass through passport control, he must show a court order that allows him to leave the country under such circumstances, due to fears the alleged Israeli felon might return.
Although Mr. Olmert’s fleeing Israeli justice is unlikely, the U.S. government would have to provide the Israeli police with concrete assurances from either the U.S. Justice Department or the FBI that he would return to Israel to stand trial when the expected indictments are issued.
David Bedein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His Web site is www.IsraelBehindTheNews.com
©The Bulletin 2008