First, the possible good news, as reported by Gershon Baskin in his Sept. 24 weekly column in the Jerusalem Times:
If the report in today’s Yediot Ahronot is correct, about two weeks ago Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert met with a senior official in the Saudi Royal Court. [A JTA bulletin reported official Israeli and Saudi denials.] Israeli Galai Zahal radio is reporting that Olmert met with King Abdallah, who as Crown Prince, initiated a peace deal, today known as the Arab League Peace initiative that called for full Israeli withdrawal from occupied territories in exchange for full peace with the entire Arab World. This report fits in with the initiative of the Arab League to convene a Security Council discussion on the Arab League Initiative. Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni made the rounds at the UN during the annual opening of the UN session meeting foreign ministers from all over the world, including from several Arab countries that Israel has no diplomatic relations with. Israel, unfortunately opposed the Arab League plans to hold the Security Council meeting on the peace initiative, but was not successful. Nonetheless, Livni came over very well as a responsible and reasonable Israeli leader truly searching for peace. She held what was reported to be a very productive meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erikat. They apparently spoke about an upcoming summit meeting between Abbas and Olmert. Olmert also commented that he would be meeting with Abbas soon, without any preconditions, however a date has still not been set.
Ed: There is more to this “however,” however, regarding this contention of no preconditions – not to mention that little complication that Abbas must again negotiate with Prime Minister Haniyah (of Hamas) upon the latter’s apparent rejection of a permanent peace with Israel, as Baskin continues:
The Olmert-Abbas summit does appear to have several preconditions to it taking place. Olmert, it seems will not meet with Abbas until Corporal Gilead Shalit is released from captivity and it appears that Olmert is also expecting Abbas to first complete the internal Palestinian negotiations on the national unity government that would recognize Israel. Abbas has made comments over the weekend stating that the new government must recognize Israel, however Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyah has stated that he will never head a government that recognizes Israel. Abbas is back in Gaza to continue the negotiations with Haniyah. In the meantime, Abbas has stated that Fatah leader in prison Marwan Barghouthi and the leader of the PFLP, also in prison in Israel (both convicted of murder) must be included in any prisoner release for Gilead Shalit. Olmert and other Israeli government ministers, including Shimon Peres, have completely rejected this demand.
Ed: The bad news was reported in the NY Times, Monday, Sept. 25, that the first 5,000 soldiers of the reinforced UNIFIL force mandated by Security Council Resolution 1701 have no clear duties nor adequately coordinated its cooperation with the Lebanese Army to safeguard the cease-fire:
They … cannot set up checkpoints, search cars, homes or businesses or detain suspects. If they see a truck transporting missiles, for example, they say they cannot stop it. They cannot do any of this, they say, because under their interpretation of the Security Council resolution that deployed them, they must first be authorized to take such action by the Lebanese Army.
The job of the United Nations force, and commanders in the field repeat this like a mantra, is to respect Lebanese sovereignty by supporting the Lebanese Army. They will only do what the Lebanese authorities ask.
But even this is unclear. On NPR this morning, correspondent Linda Gradstein reported that Israel is satisfied with the functioning of UNIFIL! We’re entitled to scratch our heads in puzzlement.