Israeli and Palestinian leaders again are poised to meet on the pristine Red Sea shore this week in a bid to find a way out of more than six years of bloodshed.
But there will be one key difference to the by-now familiar backdrop of Monday s summit at Sharm el-Sheik: This time it is intra-Palestinian rather than Israeli-Palestinian violence
giving urgency to the show of diplomacy.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, fresh from his break with Hamas after the Islamist group violently seized control of the Gaza Strip, will meet Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in hopes of kick-starting peace talks that may bolster the moderates.
Hosting the summit will be Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Jordanian King Abdullah, both keen to see Hamas contained lest their own Islamist dissidents take note and become restive.
“The events in the Gaza Strip dealt a blow at the core of Palestinian unity,” Abdullah said Sunday. “The Palestinian people have reached a critical juncture in their history.”
Israel wants to shore up Abbas and the P.A. emergency Cabinet he formed to replace the Hamas-led government, though its mandate is effectively limited to the West Bank.
“We will try, in a level-headed and cautious manner, to take advantage of the opportunities created as a result of recent events in the Gaza Strip in order to build a diplomatic process
with the Palestinians,” Olmert said.
Convening Sunday, Israel’s Cabinet decided to transfer some $350 million in withheld tax funds to the Palestinian Authority, a windfall that could help Abbas’ Fatah faction maintain
popularity while undermining the cash-starved Hamas.
While another $350 million remains locked up by Israeli court order, the Cabinet vote cleared the way for Jerusalem to resume collecting and handing over $50 million in tax and
customs due from commercial crossings on the borders of the Wes! t Bank a nd Gaza.
At Sharm el-Sheik, Olmert also is expected to announce that Israeli security forces will ease restrictions on Palestinian movement in the West Bank. By contrast, the Hamas-ruled Gaza is penned in by Israel and Egypt, deprived of all imports other than vital aid.
Hamas was quick to denounce Abbas, with Ismail Haniyeh saying that Abbas meeting with Olmert would amount to “bribery” following a Fatah “coup.”
“This money should be reaching all of the Palestinian people,” Haniyeh, who was prime minister in the government dissolved by Hamas, said in a speech.
Haniyeh called for Hamas and Fatah to enter new rapprochement talks, something Abbas ruled out last week. But Abbas may need more than defiance to produce a viable peace deal with Israel that excludes Hamas.
Egypt believes the onus is on the Olmert government. Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit’s office quoted him telling his Israeli counterpart Tzipi Livni by phone that Jerusalem should consider “halting settlement operations, ending construction of the separation wall, stopping raids on cities and removing the checkpoints.”
But Olmert indicated that he would want to see concrete action by Abbas against Palestinian terrorists whether from Hamas or from his Fatah before Israel makes such concessions.
Israel is willing to work with a Palestinian Authority “that is committed to the principles of the international community,” Olmert said, in reference to past peacemaking accords.