Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Condi's Salvage Mission

Tim McGirk in Time Magazine's Middle East Blog:
It seemed like the most craven of climb-downs. If you listen to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s remarks today in Jerusalem, it sounded like Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had reversed a statement made less than 24 hours before in which he vowed not to re-start peace talks until the Israelis agreed on a truce with militants in Gaza. According to Rice, Abbas “intended to resume negotiations”.

The view from Ramallah wasn’t so black and white, as usual. Insiders say Rice, in heated talks yesterday with Abbas, threatened to cut off all international aid and support to the Palestinian Authority. Privately, Palestinian advisers say that Abbas was aghast at how Rice had failed to understand the level of outrage in the Arab world, and particularly among Palestinians, over the heavy civilian casualties that resulted in Israel’s fierce air and ground assault last week in Gaza.

As a sop to Rice, and no doubt to avoid any withholding of money to the Palestinian Authority in a fit of pique, Abbas agreed to a “face-saver” for Rice. This way, she wouldn’t have to return to the White House empty-handed. And that face-saver was that the Palestinians would agree to sit in on three-way talks with an American general who is supposed to be assessing –-think of a mid-term Report Card—how well the Israelis and the Palestinians are complying with the conditions laid down in the Bush’s dusty and long-neglected Road Map. It’s hard to imagine that the meeting will yield anything but ugly, mutual recriminations. Beyond that, Abbas will agree to nothing. He has his own ‘face’ to save among Palestinians, not to mention his skin.