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READING BETWEEN THE RHETORIC

Olmert Apparently Told Bush Israel Will Not Surprise U.S. By Going Solo On Iran; In Return U.S. President Declared U.S. Would Come To Israel's Aid In Case Of Iranian Nuclear Attack

Olmert Had No Choice But To Accept Bush Position On Another Roadmap Attempt Rather Than Unilateral Israeli Steps On West Bank In Foreseeable Future

Olmert & Bush

After meeting in the White House, Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and U.S. President George Bush later held a joint news conference. It was not their first meeting. Years ago in Jerusalem, Olmert Mayor of Jerusalem hosted Bush, who was then Governor of Texas. By the sights and sounds of their Washington news conference, the two leaders hit it off again. But what apparently went on behind the rhetoric?

:: IsraCast Audio ::

It looked and sounded like a mutual admiration society. There was no mistaking the rhetoric of President George Bush and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert as they made every effort to show they are coordinated to the hilt on the burning issues.

In possibly the strongest statement ever by an American president, Bush declared the U.S. would come to Israel's aid if attacked by Iran. At the same time, America's leader stressed that 'at present' he is still going the diplomatic route to block Iran's acquisition of nuclear weapons. In return, Olmert stressed Israel's support for America's determination to prevent Tehran from going nuclear. Reading between the lines, Olmert has assured Bush, that Israel will not surprise the U.S. by going solo the way it did in 1981 in taking out Saddam Hussein's Osirak nuclear reactor near Baghdad. (IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz said yesterday that Iran could acquire a nuclear weapons capability by 2009 or 2010.)

The Palestinian issue is another story. Previously, Olmert wrote off Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas as an impotent leader, who despite his good intentions could never make a peace deal stick with Israel. Therefore, Israel had no choice but to start moving immediately on planning a unilateral pullback to a new defense line on the West Bank that would constitute an Israeli border. Most of the settlements would be evacuated, but Israel would build on the West Bank inside the new line. This was the main plank in Olmert's election campaign and was dubbed 'convergence' as opposed to Ariel Sharon's disengagement from the Gaza Strip and four West Bank settlements. Now in Washington, Olmert & Co. are now calling it 'realignment'. Call it what you will, Bush has put these 'bold ideas' on hold. Behind the Bush platitudes, the U.S. President has told Olmert politely but firmly: 'Yes, but ! First you must make another try at negotiating the Roadmap, Bush's baby, with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas'. Olmert obviously had no choice but to start humming another tune about his desire to explore 'every avenue' with Abbas now embroiled in a bloody power struggle with Hamas. Not that Bush or Secretary of State Rice harbor any illusions about Abbas. But the Israeli-Palestinian dispute is only one piece in the Middle East mosaic. Of far greater concern to the Bush administration is its interest in resolving the blood bath in Iraq. Would Bush risk a new rift with the Arab world and the Europeans by going 'gung ho' for Olmert's realignment? And is there any chance that a responsible Israeli Prime Minister would get in Bush's way at this critical juncture in the President's term and with the Iranian nuclear issue still hanging fire?

So, Olmert will now have to at least go through the motions of taking Abbas seriously. Secretary Rice and a team of top U.S. officials will soon be arriving in the area to try and rev up some momentum. Meanwhile Bush has kept the pressure on Hamas by declaring they must give up terrorism, recognize the 'Jewish state' and honor former Palestinian agreements with Israel. It's still a tall order for Hamas terrorists, who like Iranian President Ahmadinejad, are sworn to wipe Israel off the map. But who knows? Even if Hamas PM Ismail Haniyeh is now trying to con everyone about accepting Israel on the 1967 line, it could lend leeway to at least start some movement. In any case, Olmert has established his credentials with the Bush administration and shown that he also knows how to play the diplomatic game of mirrors.

David Essing

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