Israel in the White House

 As I write I am watching on TV Prime Minister Olmert and President Bush meeting the press in the White House a block from here.

And as you can see from the picture – taken an hour ago – it is a truly nice day in Washington.

But whether the talks in the White House so far have brought more of stability in the Middle East is far from clear.

Prime Minister Olmert is saying that he is ready and willing to meet with President Mahnmoud Abas of Palestine to see if an agreement can be reached on key issues. One gets the impression that President Bush has been pressing him into this – it did not come in his initial statement.

His stress is on the unilateral dismantling of some settlements on the West Bank that he wants to undertake. But he excludes ”major centers of Jewish population” from this, leaving it unclear what he means. I would expect there to be more detailed discussions on this in the coming hours and days.

But unilateral moves can never replace a negotiated settlement. President Bush made that clear.

And an important fact is that unilateral moves are likely to play into the hands of Hamas.

The fact that Israel refused a negotiated deal during the past few years, but withdrew unilaterally from first Southern Lebanon and then Gaza, was of course undercutting the credibility of those Palestine leader ready and willing to negotiate, while it strengthened those saying that resistance and armed actions will force the Israelis on the defensive anyhow.

One would hope that one does not repeat that mistake.

And that pressure from the White House will moderate the unilateralist and dangereous tendencies in the policies of Israel.

This written before I haste away to give a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations here on trends in the politics and policies of the European Union.

Not as dramatic. Posted by Picasa

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