Rice is coming back in ten days …

The U.S. State Department announced last night that “Secretary Rice will visit Jerusalem and Ramallah November 4-6 to continue her discussions with Israeli and Palestinian leaders to support their ongoing bilateral dialogue and the serious effort underway to draft a joint document that could lay the foundation for negotiations. [n.b., notice the qualifiers] The Secretary will follow up on her recent discussions with the parties on the need for progress on phase one commitments under the Roadmap both to improve conditions on the ground and to build confidence between the parties …

What does that mean? That Israel must remove a few roadblocks in the West Bank, which it has promised to do for months (while reportedly putting into place a few more…)? And that the Palestinians must do what? Ensure (Israeli) security???

Israeli officials say almost unanimously these days that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) is too weak to deliver peace.

So, what do they want? A 100-year truce, many Israelis say, to see if the Palestinians are really serious about making peace.

Some say they agree with the U.S. Administration’s reported intention to force Abbas to appoint the (relatively) young and widely-despised Mahmoud Dahlan as Abbas’ deputy — though they say they would not try to leverage this themselves, having learnt from having been burned by meddling in Palestinian internal affairs in the past (!)

[And, by the way, the reason Dahlan is so hated, these Israeli officials say, is not because he grew rich during the last 12 years while most of the rest of the population has been dumped into poverty; and not because his men have bullied and tortured many other Palestinians; and not because he has consistently been described in the press as the American (and also C.I.A.) choice, and photographed cozying up with Israeli officials who have said and done brutal things against the Palestinians. No, it is none of those reasons. Dahlan is hated, these Israelis say, because he is rich, and “sleeps every other night in hotels in Tel Aviv, and wears Dolce and Gabbiano suits”. The Palestinians only notice those who are rich, these Israelis say, but they are just jealous. In fact, they are overwhelmed by jealousy … In fact, by the logic of these arguments, you could think that it was a brilliant strategy on Dahlan’s part to grow rich — a brilliant stratagy by a natural leader — because that’s what puts him into a position to assume power.]

Gaza, they say, will always be ruled by Hamas — Salam Fayyad was completely wrong to say that Hamas was alien to Palestinian culture — and thus Gaza will not be part of the Palestinian State, as Condoleeza Rice has been bravely trying to insist. [They say that Israel tried to give Gaza back to Sadat as part of the 1979 Camp David treaties, but that Sadat was too smart to take it…]

Arafat could control Hamas, they say, but Abbas cannot. [Arafat was constantly making deals with Hamas’ Sheikh Ahmad Yassin — that is, until Yassin was murdered by an Israeli air strike that hit him in his wheelchair as he left a mosque in Gaza following the dawn prayers in the spring of 2004…and then Arafat took a sharp turn for the worst and died after being evacuated from the Muqata’a in Ramallah by helicopter and transferred via Jordan to a hospital in Paris.]

But, these Israelis say, perhaps a little coup within Hamas might be just what’s needed — to put the moderates on top, and distance (if not disable) the militants.

That, these Israelis say, could lead to a very comfortable modus vivendi...

So, how is Condoleeza Rice going to deal with this?

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