- The Washington Times - Friday, August 1, 2008

Eighteen months after Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice began what she described as a concerted push for Palestinian-Israeli peace, no serious negotiations have taken place and a peace deal is “not probable” before President Bush leaves office, Egypt’s envoy to Washington said Thursday.

Nabil Fahmy, who leaves the United States this month after nine years, suggested that the United States had not exerted sufficient leadership to close a deal.

“They have had interesting discussions,” Mr. Fahmy told editors and reporters at The Washington Times in reference to the latest meeting Miss Rice had with Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and chief Palestinian negotiator Ahmed Qureia this week.

“I’m not describing them as negotiations,” he said. “I don’t think they have gotten to the point of exchanging compromises or trying to reach deals.”

VIDEO: Click here to watch the interview with the Egyptian ambassador M. Nabil Fahmy

Miss Rice on Wednesday called the three-way talks at the State Department “very fruitful” and said the Bush administration still hopes for an agreement on the establishment of a Palestinian state by the end of its term in office.

Mr. Fahmy was less optimistic. “It’s possible but not probable,” he said.

Ziad Asali, president of the American Task Force on Palestine, a group that advocates a major U.S. role in Palestinian-Israeli peace talks, said Miss Rice had not presented any U.S. proposals for bridging gaps between the two sides.

“The U.S. has put down no paper,” he said. “It’s more like explaining things to friends than saying, ‘This is what I think.’”

The process has led to a better understanding on some issues, but “there is no possibility of a conflict-ending agreement during this administration,” Mr. Asali said. “The traffic will not bear it in Israel, and the United States will not do anything drastic to put pressure on Israel.”

The Bush administration waited until January 2007 to begin a serious diplomatic effort to implement Mr. Bush’s vision of “two states living side by side in peace and security.”

“I will do whatever I can do to try to help establish a Palestinian state,” Miss Rice said during a trip to the Middle East in January 2007.

U.S. efforts, however, have been hampered by political weakness in both countries. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, dogged by corruption scandals, announced that he would resign in September. Mrs. Livni and Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz, who was also in Washington on Thursday, are the front-runners to replace Mr. Olmert.

The Israeli Embassy declined to comment on this week’s talks.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack would not give specifics about Miss Rice’s meeting but insisted that the parties were “making progress.”

“The secretary has taken a different diplomatic path than others have taken in the past,” he said. “She has been focused on the parties and on other Arab states so they can invest in the process and own it. Not making a specific proposal doesn’t equate to not being involved.”

Mr. Fahmy contrasted current U.S. policy with that of President Carter, who mediated the Camp David accords between Israel and Egypt in 1978. Mr. Carter, the ambassador said, offered proposal after proposal.

What the process needs now is a closer, Mr. Fahmy said. “America always was there when we brought agreements to closure. … All these issues are at the point of closure today - fail or succeed, it will be about closure.”

Asked what he would want most from the next U.S. administration, Mr. Fahmy said he would like the United States to behave not as a superpower, but as a “global power.”

“When you define yourself as a superpower, it tends to be in competition with somebody else,” he said. “There is no equal power for you. Make a positive portrayal of why you are pursuing foreign policy,” he said, “not because you are afraid of something.”

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