According to the US, Olmert's little goodwill gestures only comprise the first steps on a path aimed at realizing America's new plan for the Middle East and which is being revealed here for the first time. The final destination is the establishment of a Palestinian state with temporary borders within two years, before the end President Bush's term in office.
The implications of this are that the US is significantly boosting its involvement in the Israeli Palestinian conflict and will implement a series of measures that would embolden the Fatah movement and weaken Hamas – including measures that would ultimately bring about the demise of the Hamas government.
Last week, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice held a seminar attended by the US State Department's top political brass involved in the Middle East. It included US ambassadors to countries in the region and General Dayton, who is currently acting on behalf of the State Department in the region.
According to Israeli sources, Rice asked this group of experts to come up with fresh and creative ideas with the purpose of consolidating a new policy for the Mideast. This policy is set to serve, among other things, as an alternative for the Baker-Hamilton report, in which the ideas suggested did not meet those of the Bush Administration.
The seminar lasted a few days and comprised several work teams. By the end of the seminar a new policy was formulated and Rice is expected to bring it to the region as early as next month.
The first part of the plan talks about measures carried out by Israel as part of the process of strengthening Mahmoud Abbas and creating an atmosphere that would allow for an upgrade in the ties between the two sides. In fact, this boils down to a series of Israeli goodwill gestures.
The meeting between Olmert and Abbas Saturday evening, say political sources in Jerusalem, fits the first part of the plan: At the end of the meeting a series of goodwill gestures was concluded, which primarily included easing Palestinian movement and providing direct economic assistance to the Palestinian president.
Incidentally, the lion's share of the funds the cabinet is set to "release" to Abbas will in fact remain in Israel as payment of debts to Israeli suppliers such as the Israel Electric Corporation and petrol providers. The remaining part of the funds will be used to strengthen the presidential guard.
The second phase of the plan comprises measures aimed at strengthening Abbas' Fatah movement. At this stage experts at the State Department are talking about the internal Palestinian rift, including the possibility of an armed clash that would ultimately result in – or so they hope - the establishment of a Palestinian state that would recognize Israel.
The third stage would be talks between Abbas and Israel. The outcome of the talks would be put to a referendum in the territories, and in its wake a Palestinian state would be established within temporary borders.
Political sources in Jerusalem estimate that the American plan will be presented shortly, most likely by delegates of the State Department who will come to the region ahead of Rice's visit.