Albright shows her fear of Netanyahu

THERE was a moment yesterday morning that captured the hopelessness of the Middle East "peace process". On a sofa just outside the coffee salon of the Churchill Hotel in London there slumped a familiar figure. There was no obvious security, just a tall, State Department spokesman and the woman sitting white-faced with exhaustion on the settee. Madeleine Albright looked like she was on the point of collapse.

Only hours before, she had telephoned Yasser Arafat to plead her excuses. She could not come to see him as agreed, she said. She was simply too tired to drive over to Claridges for their meeting. Arafat burst into laughter when the call was over.

Never mind that his own state of health - shocking to behold when only a few feet from him - was far worse than Mrs Albright's. But when it came to Benjamin Netanyahu, a few hours later, Mrs Albright was off in her limousine to meet the Israeli Prime Minister at his hotel.

And what came over most strongly yesterday was Mrs Albright's fear of Mr Netanyahu, indeed perhaps her fear of Israel. Mr Arafat and the Palestine Liberation Organisation had already accepted America's conditions for the 11 May invitation to meet President Bill Clinton in Washington. Mr Netanyahu had not responded. He was flying back to Israel to consult his cabinet. But when Mrs Albright talked to us later - hesitant and sometimes confusing or forgetting questions - she was all praise for the Israeli Prime Minister who is forging ahead with Jewish settlements on the land Mr Arafat wants as part of his Palestinian state.

Mr Netanyahu, we heard, was encouraging. He had produced "new ideas". He was enthusiastic. He was "helpful." She was very grateful to Mr Netanyahu. As for Israel's security demands - which now include a decrease in the number of Mr Arafat's policemen - "it is obviously up to Israel to decide what its security demands are ..."

But that was the whole point. Since Israel, on "security" grounds, is still refusing to give up more than 9 per cent of occupied land - an odd 11 per cent figure surfaced during the day although the Israelis would not officially confirm it - this effectively gave Israel the right to decide on the size of its withdrawals.

When we asked Mrs Albright what all those new ideas were - what possible progress she could be talking about after two days in which Mr Netanyahu and Mr Arafat couldn't even bring themselves to talk to each other on the telephone - we were informed that "more details do not help us to move forward". It was an odd phrase - but not as surprising as the admission that US proposals for Washington talks included an immediate move to what in the Oslo agreement are called "final status talks" - something that Mr Netanyahu has been demanding for the past 12 months.

So what did this mean? According to Mrs Albright, an "accelerated peace process". But a glance at the Oslo treaty shows that it would probably allow Israel to stall on any further withdrawals - or reduce the amount of occupied Arab land it was prepared to evacuate to a mere 25 per cent, if that. And Mr Arafat is not going to get a Palestinian state on this little rump of territory, carved up as it already is by roads exclusively for the use of Jewish settlers.

Yet still Mrs Albright talked of progress - she used the word at least 18 times in just a few minutes. And so did Tony Blair an hour earlier. Only Mr Arafat, partly stooped as he stood outside 10 Downing Street, gave any clue to the fantasy world in which the negotiators were immersing themselves. He had "heard" from Mrs Albright, he said, that there had been "some progress" and he would go wherever necessary to save peace.

It was when I asked him if he did not now regret signing the Oslo agreement with Israel that the old man's eyes suddenly widened and his voice took on its old strength. "The peace agreement I signed was the peace of the brave," he replied. "I signed with my partners Yitzhak Rabin, who paid with his life for this peace. It is our firm duty that we continue with the just endeavour we signed with Mr Rabin and Peres."

There was deliberately no mention of Mr Netanyahu. Indeed, in none of the sound-bites he uttered yesterday did the Israeli leader come close to Mr Arafat's albeit familiar promise. Nor did Mrs Albright. She remarked of America's peace-making efforts that "it's up to the parties [to decide] as to whether we are serving the vegetables well." Perhaps that will be written on Oslo's tombstone. By contrast, Mr Arafat was momentarily in Jefferson mode.

Leading article, page 20

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sheridan Maine: Accounts Assistant

£25,000 - £30,000: Sheridan Maine: Are you looking for a fantastic opportunity...

Neil Pavier: Commercial Analyst

£50,000 - £55,000: Neil Pavier: Are you a professionally qualified commercial ...

Loren Hughes: Financial Accountant

£45,000 - £55,000: Loren Hughes: Are you looking for a new opportunity that wi...

Ashdown Group: IT Support Engineer - Professional Services Firm - Oxford

£21000 - £24000 per annum + 21 days holidays: Ashdown Group: Technical Support...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor