Olmert Tries To Sell The Deal

Howard Arenstein is a CBS News correspondent and Washington Radio Bureau manager, as well as a former reporter for The Jerusalem Post and a former resident of Yamit, an Israeli settlement in the northern Sinai. He covered the Annapolis summit this week.

(Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty )
Prime Minister Olmert briefed Israeli reporters before taking off Wednesday to return home, where he will have to deal with much opposition from the right. Olmert interpreted the Annapolis events a bit differently than the Bush administration, clearly reflecting his attempt to sell the deal to his divided country.

He said that even if the two sides reach an agreement by the end of 2008, that doesn't mean Israel will have to implement it until it gets what it wants from the Palestinians. That includes peaceful relations with Gaza and other Palestinian obigations from the road map. There are no signs Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, wants to join this celebration.

Olmert skirted the issue of his own obligations under the road map such as dismantling illegal outposts in the West Bank. More worrisome, he apparently discussed not only the threat of Iran with President Bush in their private meeting on Wednesday, but also the possibility of going in and cleaning out the Gaza Strip with Israeli forces. The prime minister is under alot of pressure to stop the rockets into southern Israel, not to mention Tehran's nuclear program.

It is also far from a given that there can be agreement on one of the most sensitive issues facing Israel: it's very identity as a Jewish state. Saudi Arabia's ambassador to Washington, Adel al-Jubeir, told reporters his country could never accept that definition because of the sizable Arab minority of Israeli citizens. It is hard to imagine any Israeli leader agreeing to compromise on the very reason his country was created.

Olmert is about to receive news of whether or not he is going to be indicted in a fraud investigation. His defense minister, former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, is now the head of the Labor party. He could call for new elections if Olmert is facing charges. Plus, the Kadima-led coalition already is propped up by religious and ultra-nationalist parties which are threatening to quit if sensitive issues such as Jerusalem and West Bank settlements are facing them.

A Palestinian state by the time Mr. Bush leaves office ? Put me down as skeptical.