Although cabinet spokespersons are presenting this as an achievement, the truth of the matter is that President Bush's call for an international summit is a blow to Israeli diplomacy and a warning sign as to the stability of relations between Israel and the United States.
By all indications the decision to convene the summit came as a surprise to the Olmert government, and this may herald a new era marked by increased lack of diplomatic coordination between Washington and Jerusalem.
It appears that the visible weakness of Israel's incumbent cabinet has on the one hand made the Bush Administration give less consideration to our wishes, while on the other it has made it seek new ways for advancing solutions, or at least present an appearance of providing a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian issue in order to counterbalance its problems in Iraq. This applies even if such solutions are not acceptable by Israel.
This is nothing new. Previous attempts have been made to drag Israel into some international discussion or another. However, all former Israeli cabinets found ways to foil such initiatives before they took shape. Most prominent were Menachem Begin's and Moshe Dayan's moves to bring about the annulment of the Geneva Convention set to be predicated on a joint Soviet-American declaration that did not bode well for Israel.
The reason why Israel has always protested such moves - and should have opposed such a summit now – is that there is not much probability that within a constellation where it would face Arab states, Russia, the United Nations and the European Union alone it would not find itself in an inferior position.
True, the US will also be present; however, even America's current guiding interests do not always tie in with Israel's guiding interests. In any event, it would be hard to expect the Americans - in their current international and shaky position - to strongly confront the other participants, particularly as their positions do not differ much from those of the other parties in the diplomatic equation on critical topics such as Jerusalem, settlements and even borders.
Abbas wants final-status talks
The US is only close to us on the matter of refugees, but even on this matter it would require much determination and diplomatic wisdom on Israel's part to prevent a formula such as the one raised and dropped in Taba, which in principle would have recognized the rights of refugees to enter the State of Israel, while also opening the door for the realization of such a "right."
Mahmoud Abbas has already made clear what he would demand at the planned summit: To immediately engage in talks on a final-status agreement based on the desirable Palestinian positions of course.
Bush's address alludes to the fact that the US at least partially supports this claim, if not all its details. "But Israel went to the Madrid summit," some will say, "wasn't that an international summit?" The answer is no. Madrid was nothing but a festive international ceremony for embarking on direct and indirect talks without preconditions between Israel and its enemies: Jordan and the Palestinians, Syria and Lebanon.
Moreover, ahead of the talks, Israel received from the US a list of commitments and agreements that were likely to have had long-term importance - had they been immediately implemented in the Oslo Agreement.
For some reason, our cabinet believes that its ties with the international community have improved to such an extent that there is no reason to fear pressure on crucial matters. Yet even if some improvement has been made in this regard, it will not suffice to guarantee that the planned international summit will present stable and reliable support of our positions in some crucial matters from our point of view.
Bush's address also contains a few positive points such as the call on Arab states (particularly Saudi Arabia) to recognize the State of Israel, but it is not enough to mitigate the main clause calling for an international summit in November.
Zalman Shoval is a former ambassador to the US