Diplomacy in the Middle East
THERE has been a veritable stream of diplomats visiting the Middle East, apparently with the shared hope of moving forward the stalled peace process, which, once concluded, would do much to stabilize not only that part of the world but the entire world. First there was US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on her fifth foray in as many months, trying to put Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas and Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert together, bypassing the Hamas-led Palestinian Unity government. She left with a somewhat grudging consent of the two leaders of Palestine and Israel to meet every two weeks, but they fell short of agreeing to discuss a two-state solution which is the hoped for result of any ME peace accord.
While the US Secretary of State was shuttling between the West Bank and Jerusalem, the United Nations new Secretary general Ban Ki-Moon was also visiting heads of government in Egypt, Israel, the West Bank, Jordan, and Lebanon, and stayed to lend UN backing to the Arab League conference in Riyadh hosted by Saudi Arabia.
Chancellor Angela Merkel made her first trip, as head of the European Union, to the Middle East, offering Europe's help to bring Palestine and Israel to the peace table. She also called upon Iran to release the 15 British sailors and marines they claimed they had taken in Iranian waters, although Britain says they were in Iraqi waters. Whether the EU pressure tipped the scale, or the thoughts of more isolation or even military confrontation, made the difference, Iran's president Mahmoud Ahmadinijad called a press conference Easter Week saying (at the end of a long speech) that he was releasing the British seamen "as a gift" to Britain, but at the same time awarding the Iranians who picked them up with medals.
In her visits with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestine president Mahmoud Abbas, Chancellor Merkel urged the Israeli and Palestinian leaders not to miss a rare opportunity, provided by the Arab plan League offer, to revive the peace process. …