On the Plane

Israelis, Palestinians Appear Determined to Get Equal Treatment

RAMALLAH, West Bank, Feb. 18 -- As Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice attempts to jumpstart peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians at a summit meeting Monday, both Israelis and Palestinians appear determined to want exactly equal treatment.

After flying in from Baghdad Saturday night, Rice headed to dinner with Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. Moments before emerging to meet with reporters, Livni flashed a thumbs-down sign to her aides -- a signal that the two officials would take no questions. Instead, they would each make a brief statement before sitting down for their meal.

Minutes later, U.S. officials received a call from Palestinian officials.

The Palestinians had been watching the television footage of the Rice-Livni appearance and decided to cancel the news conference Rice and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas were to have after their meetings on Sunday. They wanted the same set-up as the Israelis -- a quick meeting with reporters, each side making brief remarks, before sitting down to lunch. If the Israeli foreign minister was not going to takes questions, then neither would Abbas.

Such was the diplomatic minuet as Rice shuttled between the two sides this weekend, seeking to have a successful start to her initiative. But not everything was even-handed: Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert spoke by phone with President Bush on Friday in advance of meeting Rice Sunday -- and the Israelis immediately leaked word that Bush had agreed with Olmert that the emerging Palestinian unity government had not achieved international demands to recognize Israel, renounce violence and a bid by previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements.

Abbas, by contrast, had to make due with a visit by an envoy, Assistant Secretary of State C. David Welch. In an interview Sunday with Haaretz, an Israeli newspaper, Rice was asked whether the fact that Bush called Olmert but not Abbas hurt the appearance of a "honest broker."

"The president doesn't need to always make calls to everybody at any given time," Rice said. "The prime minister and the president haven't talked for a while -- in fact for quite a long time -- and it was a good thing to have a chance to talk to the prime minister and to say that this was an important meeting, that it was important to go ahead with this meeting."

-- Glenn Kessler

By washingtonpost.com Editors |  February 18, 2007; 4:00 PM ET  | Trip:  Rice in Middle East and Europe, February 2007
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