TODAY Prime Minister Olmert of Israel and President Abbas of Palestine should have been having one of their regular fortnightly meetings arranged by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in March. That the meeting has been cancelled should not surprise anyone; of the possible five since Dr Rice announced her initiative only one has actually happened, on April 15. Today's planned encounter would have been symbolically important because it was due to be held in the Palestinian territories for the first time, probably in the city of Jericho. However, it was Mahmoud Abbas, not Ehud Olmert, who called it off; Israel was not ready to discuss any of the urgent operational issues tabled by the Palestinians and instead insisted that these meeting are only to discuss a political horizon, meaning the composition of a future Palestinian state.
Palestinians desperate to discuss an easing of travel restrictions in the West Bank or the release by Israel of frozen Palestinian tax revenue might be forgiven for thinking that the composition of a future Palestinian state is a distant dream which can wait a while until more immediate issues are resolved. It is true that Dr Rice did use the phrase political horizons when she got the two leaders to promise to meet regularly but she has subsequently explained that she wanted Israel to make clear what it is ready to offer the Palestinians in exchange for political concessions on their part. Any other business? Date of next non-meeting?