While everyone and their brother seems to be falling all over themselves to deny, deny, deny that such talks took place, Akiva Eldar, who broke the original story, has kept pace by breaking new ground yet again. He reports in today’s Haaretz that both senior U.S. officials and the negotiators themselves confirm that officials as high as Dick Cheney were kept informed of developments in their meetings:
Senior American government officials received regular reports of the secret meetings that took place in Europe between a former Israeli official and a Syrian representative, Haaretz has learned.
Senior officials in Washington told Haaretz that U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney was kept in the picture about these indirect talks between Syria and Israel.
Eldar also reveals the rather astonishing news (take that, Woodward) that former CIA officers participated in direct talks with Hamas and Hezbollah officials aimed at plumbing the possibility of change in both the two militant organizations’ positions and in U.S. policy toward them:
Geoffrey Aronson, of the Washington-based Foundation for Middle East Peace, who helped arrange the secret meetings, also participated last year in meetings organized by Alastair Crooke, the European Union’s former security envoy to the territories, with key Hamas and Hezbollah members.
These meetings, which took place in Beirut, were also attended by two former senior Central Intelligence Agency officials. Haaretz reported at the time that Cheney also know about the existence of these meetings, and received regular reports from the American participants.
Of course, given that Dick Cheney seems to have been riding herd over these projects is it any wonder that they don’t seem to have led anywhere? Can Dick Cheney have ever had any interest in changing U.S. policy toward Hamas, Hezbollah or Syria?? More likely, he wanted to know the substance of the talks merely so he would know how to discredit them more decisively.
Despite denials from senior officials in the prime minister’s office, Eldar presents more persuasive evidence that Olmert and staff knew full well what was going on:
Meretz-Yahad Chairman Yossi Beilin said in media interviews Tuesday that the European mediator in the secret talks was Nicholas Lang, head of the Middle East desk at the Swiss Foreign Ministry.
Lang also played a key role in organizing the Israeli-Palestinian meetings at which Beilin and Yasser Abed Rabbo drafted the Geneva Initiative, their proposal for a final-status agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. Liel, who was the driving force behind the secret meetings with Suleiman, is one of the people closest to Beilin.
Raviv Drucker, of Channel 10 television, reported last night that Lang met not long ago with Shalom Turjeman, Ehud Olmert’s political adviser, and presented him with the draft. According to Drucker, Turjeman told Lang that Israel has no interest in the understandings. Drucker also said that Lang visited Damascus several times during the talks, met with Syrian FM Farouk Shara, and reported that he believed the Syrian leadership genuinely wanted a deal.
“Israel had no interest in the understandings.” Where have we heard that one before? Remember when Olmert for weeks during the war had no interest in a Lebanon ceasefire (until he did)? Remember for months when he had no interest in meeting with Abbas (till he did at Condi’s urging)? Remember when Olmert had no interest in holding peace talks with Abbas (he never has)? “Never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity.” That should be written on his headstone.
The passage quoted above makes clearer why Olmert ran from this project as fast as his feet would carry him. It was the baby of Yossi Beilin, that confirmed ‘peacenik’ and leader of the dovish Meretz party. Why in heavens name would Olmert have any interest in promoting or supporting a Syrian version of the Geneva Initiative? Why? And give those “leftist peaceniks” a chance to crow that they made peace where he couldn’t (or wouldn’t)? He’d have to have been a fool to play into Beilin’s hands, right? I guess that’s the way a cynical player of the political power game would view it. But a statesman wouldn’t have viewed it that way. But Israel hasn’t seen a statesman in office since Rabin was murdered. It may not see another for quite some time. Ugh, I have a headache!