First tango in Paris

There was quite a bit of dancing going on at Nicolas Sarkozy’s Mediterranean Union meeting in Paris this weekend, and some of it seemed telling. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was the primary dancer. With his political future in serious jeopardy, Olmert is desperately hoping for “peace” talks with Syria. Thus, with the Turkish president acting as his intermediary, Olmert was practically begging Syrian dictator Bashar Assad to begin negotiations straight away. In his capacity as a supplicant, Olmert promised to release more Palestinian prisoners.

For his part, Assad, whom the Jerusalem Post calls “the ‘star of the Summit judging by the press attention he drew,” was having none of it. His position is that talks must await the U.S. election. Assad, who has talked directly with Nancy Pelosi, clearly believes that he’ll get a better deal from Israel in an Obama presidency where (he reasonably expects) greater U.S. pressure will be brought to bear on Israel. Olmert’s argument that the Bush administration will support anything Assad and Israel agree to is true but it misses the point — if Obama comes to power, Israel may well be pushed to agree terms that Bush wouldn’t seek to impose.

Olmert not only failed to move the “peace process” with Syria along, he didn’t even get his photo op. Assad neither met with nor shook Olmert’s hand, and he left the room where Olmert spoke 20 minutes before the prime minister’s speech began. Olmert shouldn’t feel singled out, however. Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem also left the hall minutes before Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni spoke to the assembled foreign ministers. That’s some “peace partner” Olmert’s got there.

Livni, though, made sure that she would not be the loser of the Paris dance contest. The Jerusalem Post reports that she “steered clear of Olmert” while they were in Paris.

With any luck at all, Olmert will be out of power by the time the U.S. has a new president and Assad considers whether he should deign to talk with Israel. Meanwhile, at last report Syria and Israel were not fighting and Israel held all the territory Syria covets.

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