It was Rice’s eighth visit to Jerusalem-Ramallah, and her third in six weeks, or her second in two weeks, depending on perspective. There are reports of still one more visit to come, by mid-November.
Kol Israel, citing Reuters, reports this morning that “A senior US official says the Annapolis peace summit is likely to take place in the last week of November. Reuters quotes the official as saying that participating countries will be represented [in Annapolis] at the ministerial level”.
Yesterday, in Ramallah, it was a small treat to watch Rice’s convoy pass. The first clue was the unusual deployment of olive-uniformed Palestinian security (the police wear blue). They refused to allow cars to park on the street in front of the Wataniya building, where the Palestinian Peace Coalition [the Palestinian team working on the Geneva Initiative] used to be housed, until their funding dried up. The building houses the Swiss, Japanese, and Irish consulates, and Royal Jordanian Airlines offices – clearly a dangerous lot. The security forces were quite suspicious, but not really nervous. At the last minute, it was possible to emerge into the sunlight just in time to see the action — like watching the Saint Patrick’s Day parade in NYC.
Rice, at about 11:30 am, was apparently coming from the office of Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, and going to the Muqata’a to see Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen).
Traffic was cut off a few minutes before the convoy approached. Then, a white pickup truck approached at high speed from the opposite direction, and made a U-turn, waiting in position to lead the convoy on. A smaller bright mid-blue vehicle (the color of some police cars was next, then, after a pause, a police motorcyclist with a rotating light on a pole perched at the back of his vehicle signalled the arrival of the convoy itself: Another blue police van. Closed vehicles loaded with Palestinian olive-uniformed security personnel. Then about 8 black vans, with tinted windows (closed). In the second row of seats, suited security personnel, one man fully facing each side of the street, anxious faces scanning the facades of the buildings on both sides. What would they do if they actually saw something dangerous — a rifle sticking out of an upper floor window, like at the Texas Book Repository? It might be too late by then … In the back of these black vans, at least two rows of seats, facing each other, forming a conversational grouping. Calm reigned.
The convoy moved at a clip, but didn’t break the sound barrier.
At the back, another group of six to eight white vehicles. These seemed to be more security, probably including Israeli security. These white vehicles, in fact, might be all Israeli, at least Israeli-provided. At the end, two white vehicles with a printed sign in the window: Press. The windows in these vans were clear, allowing a perfectly clear view of the well-dressed and clearly well-mannered travelling press corps, and perhaps other local journalists being assisted to attend the event. Sitting ducks.
At the end of their meeting, sometime around 1:30 or 2:00 pm, Rice and Abbas gave what was latter called an “upbeat” joint press conference at the Muqata’a, where local (Palestinian) journalists had been asked to be in place from 10:00 — for security reasons.
Abbas and Rice were pleased, apparently, from comments made at a gala meeting of the “prestigious” Saban Forum on Sunday evening by Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Olmert — two of the most important of which were (1) “We will not bargain about the right of the Palestinian people to their own state”, and (2) “It should be remembered that the Roadmap sets out a series of steps for the State of Israel. These steps, like the obligations of the Palestinians, have yet to be implemented. We will not concede to the Palestinians on any of the obligations outlined in the Roadmap, and we will not avoid fulfilling our own obligations to the letter”.
For a fuller account of Olmert’s hailed remarks, see the post “The Day after Annapolis?“, on Palestine-Mandate.com, here.
For an informal poll of Palestinian man-on-the-street reactions to the present process, see the post on Palestine-Mandate.com, “There will be an Annapolis meeting, it seems“, here.
Rice did not visit the nearly-completed Yasser Arafat memorial, that is nearly completed, in lovely light-pink stone, around his gravesite in a corner of the Muqata’a — the building where his health declined after two years of being quite literally under seige, facing regular public Israeli threats to finish him off. Arafat was evacuated by helicopter and taken via Jordan to a hospital in France, where he soon died. Arafat’s body was returned from France via Egypt, and then helicopter to the Muqata’a, where it was unable to land for a very long time due to the press of mourners on the ground.
Historical footnote: at least three Western journalists, all women, were recalled by their news organizations as a result of Israeli protests at their emotional [i.e. “unobjective”] reporting of Arafat’s final days, including his helicopter evacuation — a much weakened-man in an overcoat and woolen cap, over his pyjamas — from the Muqata’a.