Sunday, May 11, 2008


Or just plain moronic. Take your pick.

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Bush administration has told Israeli and Palestinian leaders they will need to show progress in their secret talks soon, or risk a potentially fatal erosion in public support for a process now in its sixth month without any obvious successes.

A logical couple of questions would be: How do you "show progress" in "secret talks?" And how do you erode public support that doesn't actually exist? And, finally, if the talks are secret, how would the "public" even know ... ? Oh, why bother? Consider the source.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice passed that message during meetings with both sides a little more than a week ago, Arab, U.S. and other Western diplomats said. Rice was reacting mainly to the increasingly pessimistic Palestinian assessments of the talks, but she warned that confidence was fragile among Israelis, too.

Actually, there's a much longer version of the same AP story here, and it's full of even more perplexing and alarming proposals and statements by the charming Dr. Rice.

A Palestinian adviser said Rice raised the possibility of a statement outlining progress during her latest visit to Israel and the West Bank, but was shot down by both sides. The negotiations should continue but then timing is wrong for any announcement, both sides said, diplomats said. They spoke on condition of anonymity to describe a private session Rice held with the top negotiators on both sides, among other meetings.

That would probably be because "both sides" understand that the aforementioned "public support" for the secret talks on the part of their constituents is virtually non-existent (not "fragile"), while Condi, well, clearly does not.

Although difficult, the border question is considered perhaps the most soluble of the major questions that divide Israel and the Palestinians.

Rice mentioned borders prominently, suggesting she thinks it is the best chance for progress in the near term. Twice during her most recent trip, Rice urged that the sides draw a final map soon, in part because it would help settle other disputes.

If you think about it for a minute, there are profoundly disturbing and (I'm quite certain) unintended implications in that "suggestion." It's true that the border question is less of an obstacle than, say, the refusal of the palestinian arabs to acknowledge Israel's right to exist. But isn't this too clearly putting the cart before the horse? Drawing a final map "soon" could, in fact, help settle that little existential dispute by forcing Israel back to indefensible borders, with the obvious probable consequences. Is that a "settlement" Rice would find acceptable? I'll leave that one hanging.

In unusually blunt language, Rice acknowledged that the map won't give Palestinians every inch they claim while Israel cannot expect to keep all the Jewish housing it has built on disputed ground.

"There are realities for both sides, which is why they need to draw a map and get it done," Rice said as she left the region last Monday.

All of which is meaningless mumbo-jumbo, hardly "blunt" but rather sufficiently vague that you can read almost anything into it. As some of us know all too well, the palestinian arabs claim every inch of Israel, so allowing that they won't get that isn't saying much. (This nuance will be totally lost, however, on the vast bulk of AP's readership, who have been induced to believe that such claims are now limited to the "West Bank.") And to what is Rice referring when she speaks of "Jewish housing ... on disputed ground?" Illegal outposts? Small, isolated settlements deep in Judea and Samaria? Or Efrat, Maale Adumim, Ariel? Har Homa? French Hill and Ramat Eshkol?

Could such deliberate ambiguity be even remotely helpful to any real, honest peace process? I think not. But we have several more months of this "legacy" posturing to go before Bush leaves office under the same cloud of inevitable frustration as his predecessor. God help us.