Prime Minister Ehud Olmert went out of his way Saturday evening to welcome Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to his official residence, in the spirit of turning over a new leaf.
Olmert insisted on leaving his home to welcome the President and his convoy with kisses. "It is my pleasure to welcome you, Mr. President," said Olmert to Abbas.
The Palestinians were surprised to find the Palestinian flag and the Israeli flag standing side by side in the PM's driveway. The two flags were found together on the table inside the house as well.
This is the first time that Palestinian flags were waved inside any official Israeli institution, not to mention the prime minister's residence.
Even senior officials at the Prime Minister's Office found this hard to believe; Palestinian flags in the heart of a Jerusalem neighborhood.
Olmert's men explained that the warm welcome and the Palestinian flags being raised alongside the Israeli flags were meant to prove that there is no patronization on the Israelis' part, and that they were negotiating with Abbas because they truly believe he wants peace and they hope to make him a real partner.
"Abu Mazen," said Olmert's men, "was welcomed at the prime minister's residence just as any other head of state would be."
Three-course dinnerAt the entrance to his home, Olmert introduced his wife Aliza to the Palestinian officials. They then took their seats at the discussion table.
The parties had a rich dinner which was prepared by an external catering company. The menu had three courses; herring in lemon sauce, avocado and root vegetables and for desert, wild berry soup.
On the drink menu only water was served, the Israelis were sure not to serve wine.
Around the table there was an extraordinarily friendly atmosphere, one that had not been felt for many years with the Palestinians.
Nonetheless, the atmosphere was still very practical, not one of a peace fest. Everyone knew exactly what they had come for, the meeting was cooked just as well as the meat was and the two leaders dealt with matters quickly and efficiently like two businessmen.
They made sure to discuss only concrete matters on the agenda and they did not discuss any permanent arrangements. The two also refrained from playing the blame game.
The Israelis felt that for the first time in a long time there is actual hope of coming to a breakthrough. There is a common interest, not to mention a common enemy: To stop the Hamas, who is greatly supported by Iran, from getting stronger.