In an exclusive intelligence report from DEBKAfile, we are told that, President George W. Bush has finally come down against his Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's conception of the Middle East peace conference she is trying to convene before the end of the 2007.
Stephen Hadley, head of the National Security Council, was chosen to deliver Bush's decision to the Israelis and the Palestinians. His talks last week with Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert in Jerusalem and with Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah received virtually no media attention either here in Israel nor internationally yet his mission was significant.
He essentially deflated the content, the format and the expectations of the coming conference. He reported to both sides that Bush had decided:
1. No working papers or American bridging proposals would be presented before or during the Annapolis conference on core issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, i.e. borders, Jerusalem, Palestinian refugees and the war on terror.
2. Washington had no intention of imposing solutions or formulae either on Israel or the Palestinians.
3. The two sides must negotiate on their own without preset deadlines.
4. The Americans would be there to assist them both in the course of conference debates, but would not be an active participant.
These decisions mean that the Bush administration is pulling in its horns over the peace conference in support of Olmert's narrow approach and in diametric opposition to Rice's much bigger perception of the event as the starting-point for intensive and substantive Israel-Palestinian negotiations towards the establishment of a Palestinian state within a given timeline.
It has also slipped out that Abbas is denigrating the US Secretary of State's approach in private conversations with his Palestinian colleagues. "After many years, I find myself forced to be a teacher," he told one. "I have to find a way of teaching Rice the meaning of a final-status settlement in the Middle East." The much touted Annapolis conference is slipping further into non-significance.
SOURCE: The Lekarev Report