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

News
The surrealist comedian at the Q Awards in 2010
people
News
Russell Brand arriving for the book launch in East London
peopleRussell Brand cancels his book launch debate due to concerns about the make-up of the panel
Sport
Christiano Ronaldo enjoys his opening goal
champions leagueLiverpool 0 Real Madrid 3: Ronaldo and Benzema run Reds ragged to avenge thrashing from their last visit to Anfield
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Nicholas Serota has been a feature in the Power 100 top ten since its 2002 launch
art
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Awesome foursome: Sam Smith shows off his awards
music22-year-old confirms he is 2014’s breakout British music success
Life and Style
Six of the 76 Goats' cheese samples contained a significant amount of sheep's cheese
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Contestants during this summer's Celebrity Big Brother grand finale
tvBroadcaster attempts to change its image following sale to American media group
Extras
indybest
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Dales attempts to sell British Breeze in the luxury scent task
tvReview: 'Apprentice' candidate on the verge of tears as they were ejected from the boardroom
News
Call me Superman: one of many unusual names chosen by Chinese students
newsChinese state TV offers advice for citizens picking a Western moniker
News
Wilko Johnson is currently on his farewell tour
people
Voices
New look: Zellweger at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
voicesRenée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity, says Amanda Hess
News
Let’s pretend: KidZania in Tokyo
educationKidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day
Life and Style
CHARGE BOOSTER: Aeroplane mode doesn't sound very exciting, but it can be a (phone) hacker's friend. Turning on the option while charging your mobile will increase the speed at which your phone battery charges
techNew book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone
Arts and Entertainment
Julianne Moore and Ellen Page are starring together in civil rights drama Freeheld
film
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

Solutions Architect - Permanent - London - £70k DOE

£60000 - £70000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

General Cover Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: Great opportunities for Cover...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: QTS Maths Teachers needed for...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: QTS Maths Teachers needed for...

Day In a Page

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?