On the Plane

Rice's Hotel Room Is Neutral Site for Summit

JERUSALEM, Feb. 19--When Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice decided last month she wanted to host a summit with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, one of the big questions was: Where?

A neutral third country, such as Jordan or Egypt, might have seemed logical, but that would have meant yet another leader would have wanted a seat at the table. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was not keen to travel to the occupied territories, but bringing Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to Jerusalem might have been seen as demeaning.

As it turned out, Abbas did not mind coming to Jerusalem; he was happy to have the rare meeting in the first place. But U.S. officials balked at Israeli efforts to hold the meeting in an Israeli government building. Finally, a truly neutral site was found: Rice's hotel, the David Citadel.

The David Citadel is a modern facility located just steps from the Jafa gate of the Old City, with a large and secure underground parking garage for easy access by motorcades. The rooms on the upper levels have glorious views of that small piece of real estate claimed by three great religions. As it happens, the hotel is located in the former no man's land between Arab and Jewish Jerusalem.

The hotel is also a favored site for bar mitzvahs and weddings; a large and loud wedding was held in the banquet room where Rice brought together Abbas and Olmert. After the wedding ended, Israeli security moved in and immediately secured the area around the hotel, and especially the banquet level, for the summit. Reporters traveling with Rice were given special diplomatic security pins so they could enter the filing center, located conveniently across the hall from the summit.

The meeting started off rather formally, with Rice, Abbas and Olmert clasping hands together and smiling politely for the television cameras. After the cameras left, the meeting at first was reported to be somewhat stiff, as the two men ran down their list of talking points.

But after an hour, Rice decided to dispense with conference room and take them up to her suite on the tenth floor, where the three officials paused briefly to admire the view from her balcony. The mood then lightened a bit, a U.S. official said, as they began to discuss the contours of a Palestinian state. Eventually, those talks will include how to carve up control of the Old City -- one of the issues that wrecked the last attempt to create a state in 2001, during the waning days of Bill Clinton's presidency.

When Rice came down stairs to read a trilateral statement, there were no flags behind her or even identification of the hotel on the podium -- just a spare blue backdrop.

The three then munched on a meal that included "fresh young leaves" and "a duet" of fillet of Dorad and Norwegian Salmon." Perhaps even the lunch menu had a diplomatic purpose, with hints to something fresh, a duet and even the old Oslo peace accord.

-- Glenn Kessler

By washingtonpost.com Editors |  February 19, 2007; 3:26 PM ET  | Trip:  Rice in Middle East and Europe, February 2007
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