Few new developments at Israeli-Palestinian summit

Host Condoleezza Rice said goal of talk with Olmert and Abbas was to restart peace talks

February 20, 2007|By Ken Ellingwood | Ken Ellingwood,LOS ANGELES TIMES

JERUSALEM -- Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice played host to an Israeli-Palestinian summit yesterday, but the session produced little beyond promises to uphold past agreements and to meet again soon.

Rice characterized the three-way gathering with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas as "useful and productive," though her summary of the two-hour, 20-minute session was largely a checklist of commitments previously made by the two sides.

Rice billed the meeting as an opportunity for the two leaders to informally explore ways to restart peace talks after more than six years of conflict. She said they did some of that, but also discussed agreements that have not been fully met, such as the 2005 pact on borders aimed at further opening the Gaza Strip to the outside world.

Olmert and Abbas reaffirmed their support of the U.S.-backed diplomatic blueprint known as the "road map" and discussed how to begin reviving it, Rice said. The plan, which lays out a step-by-step path to an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel, has languished since it was unveiled in 2003 because neither side has fulfilled even initial commitments.

Rice said she planned to return to the region soon but did not say when. Olmert and Abbas plan to meet on their own before that.

"They reiterated their desire for American participation and leadership in facilitating efforts to overcome obstacles, rally regional and international support and move forward toward peace. In that vein, I expect to return to the region soon," Rice said in terse remarks after the session.

Olmert and Abbas did not accompany Rice in issuing the statement, and did not meet with the news media separately.

No one on either side expected much from the summit, given the weakened political condition of both Olmert and Abbas. Hopes sank further in recent days due to confusion over plans for a Palestinian unity government in which Abbas' Fatah party is to join hands with the radical Hamas movement.

Abbas, a relative moderate, agreed to join a governing alliance with Hamas following months of factional violence that left more than 100 Palestinians dead. Hamas, whose charter calls for Israel's destruction, has ruled alone since winning parliamentary elections early last year.

Abbas has justified the deal, reached two weeks ago in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, as a way to end the fighting between the rival Palestinian factions. He also hopes that creation of a unity government will end international limits on aid to the Palestinians imposed after Hamas came to power.

But Israel has threatened to snub the proposed government, as it has the Hamas administration, unless it meets international demands to recognize the Jewish state, renounce violence and abide by past Israeli-Palestinian agreements.

Olmert said later yesterday that Israel would work with Abbas, who was elected separately as Palestinian Authority president.

Ken Ellingwood writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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