My New Assignment

E-mail Reena Ninan

I was soaking up the sun outside Ben-Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv. What more could I ask for? All six of my suitcases arrived from New York, and I was greeted by a gloriously warm, sunny day. My mind was already consumed with finding a place to live.

I pointed to every village along Highway One, which takes you from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and asked our driver Saadia to explain the highlights of each one we passed.

And there it was … resting on this beautiful hill, swathed in sunlight, and sectioned off from the rest of the world by this beautiful Jerusalem stone gate. I was confident this area had great housing potential.

“Yes, it's very quiet. Close to the airport. I can see you living there one day.”

Then Saadia adds in his typical matter-of-fact way, “It is a cemetery.”

Then and Now

The site looked far grander than Mount Herzl, the Jerusalem cemetery where three Israeli prime ministers have been buried, including:

• Yitzhak Rabin,
• Golda Meir, Israel's only female prime minister, and
• Levi Eshkol, who led Israel to victory during the Six-Day War in 1967.

Much like Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, the bodies of Israeli soldiers are also laid to rest here. The site is named after Theodor Herzl, a Jewish journalist considered to be the founder of modern Zionism. He died before Israel was created.

Today, Israel is a very different place from Herzl's vision. It's a different era from the days after Israel won the Six-Day War.

Leadership approval ratings read the same on both sides of the conflict: Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas have incredibly low poll numbers.

While the Palestinians are trying to piece together a unity government made up of Fatah and rival Hamas members, the Israelis are still examining the aftermath of last summer's 33-day war with Hezbollah. Last week, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert testified before the Winograd Commission, which is investigating the war.

According to leaked testimony, Olmert tried to explain that his decision to go to war wasn't hastily planned, and that he had decided as early as March of last year to use force in the event Israeli soldiers were kidnapped. Local newspaper editorials cast a great deal of doubt on his statement.

And then, there is Saudi Arabia.

The Israelis rejected a Saudi peace initiative in 2002. Although Saudi Arabia does not recognize Israel, the Israelis find themselves and the Saudis facing a common threat — a potentially nuclear Iran.

Saudi Arabia has carried out diplomatic moves to ensure the Iran does not extend its influence over Iraq through Shiia victory over the Sunnis.

As one newspaper put it:

“The fear of the Iranian octopus is currently motivating Saudi Arabia …”

Arab leaders, including the Saudis, want the Bush administration to double its efforts to break the impasse in Israeli-Palestinian talks before the U.S. presidential race gains momentum, deflecting attention away from the Palestinian problem.

Last month a Jordanian official told me he worries that the White House will give up on brokering talks between Israel and the Palestinian government if Washington does not see immediate results. He fears that, as the presidential race gains additional momentum, the White House will question the wisdom of spending political capital on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict if diplomatic victory is not in sight.

The Future

Hamas refuses to recognize Israel but has offered a hudna — an Arabic word meaning a long-term truce — to their rival Fatah.

What was the Hebrew word for hudna?

I scrambled through my laptop bag to find my Hebrew phrase book as my BlackBerry vibrated with a message from Jennifer Griffin, who is leaving to cover the Pentagon after seven years in Jerusalem:

“Contact Anne Barnard, Boston Globe. She's leaving and her house may be available.”

The Boston Globe recently announced it's closing several foreign bureaus, including one in Jerusalem.

My Hebrew phrasebook was book-marked with a crumbled Washington Post article by Pam Constable, titled “Demise of the Foreign Correspondent.” She wrote about the dwindling number of foreign reporters and rise of bureaus with an “… eager kid with a laptop and an Arabic phrase book in her backpack.”

Yeah, the irony of the situation didn't escape me. And so, after tours covering the war in Iraq in 2005 and 2006, the journey to cover the elusive quest for peace in the Holy Land begins.

E-mail Reena Ninan

Reena Ninan is FOX News Channel's new Middle East correspondent. Before coming to Jerusalem, Reena joined the NYC bureau of FNC as an on-air correspondent in March 2006. She then began reporting for FOX out of Baghdad in 2005 where she covered the Saddam trial, Iraqi elections and was embedded with U.S. forces.