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Last Updated: Thursday, 25 May 2006, 00:18 GMT 01:18 UK
Olmert gets words not actions in US
By Jonathan Beale
BBC News, Washington

Mr Olmert meeting members of Congress
Mr Olmert addressed a joint session of the US Congress
Ehud Olmert leaves Washington with his ego flattered.

There were warm words from the US president and a series of standing ovations for his speech to both Houses of the US Congress.

But in concrete terms little has been achieved.

Unlike his predecessor Ariel Sharon, Mr Olmert did not leave with a letter endorsing his plan.

So let us take the positives first, for the Israelis.

President Bush and Mr Olmert have a developed - albeit nascent - relationship.

They even appear to like each other, fondly recalling their first meeting when President Bush was just governor of Texas and Mr Olmert the humble mayor of Jerusalem.

This meeting provided the first real opportunity to discuss Mr Olmert's plan to carry out a limited withdrawal from some West Bank settlements.

President Bush made positive noises calling the proposal a "bold idea". But that was not quite the full endorsement that the Israeli prime minister wanted.

Concessions and commitments

From the US viewpoint, Mr Olmert showed flexibility.

Israeli PM Ehud Olmert (l) and President Bush at the White House
This is Mr Olmert's first trip to Washington in his new role as PM

He appeared to have changed his attitude to Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas mid-way across the Atlantic ocean.

Before leaving Israel, he had dismissed Mr Abbas as powerless and weak.

In Washington, the Palestinian leader suddenly became a potential partner for peace.

Prime Minister Olmert was given the (rarish) honour of addressing a joint session of the US Congress.

He made a speech that seemed to press all the right buttons for his influential American audience.

He allied himself with America's "war on terror", he held out the "hand of friendship" to moderate Palestinians and expressed his desire to see a separate Palestinian state.

But there was no indication from either side as to what could be done to strengthen the hand and influence of Mr Abbas.

Or how to bypass the democratically-elected Hamas government, or to at least encourage it to renounce violence and recognise Israel.

Nor did the US president show any sense of urgency. He gave no indication of how hard he was prepared to work to sell Mr Olmert's plan.

A three-way process?

The US may claim that it won an important concession from Prime Minister Olmert by getting him to agree to pursue talks with Mr Abbas.

But even US officials see the PA president's position as weakened.

The question: Are the US and Israel just going through the motions?

Neither side has given the impression that they really think Mr Abbas is in a strong position to negotiate over an Israeli plan that would be very hard to sell to the Palestinian people.

Even before Mr Olmert arrived in Washington, both Israeli and US officials were playing down expectations.

And there has been a noticeable absence of spin - no suggestion that this was an historic opportunity.

But for President Bush, Mr Olmert represents the only hope of keeping any hopes of a lasting peace alive.

And to Palestinians it looks very one-sided.


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