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At summit, Israel solidifies gains

Pressured by US, Palestinians promised to end the intifada at Wednesday's meeting.

By Cameron W. BarrStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / June 5, 2003


In this phase of its struggle against the Palestinians, Israel can just about declare victory.

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At a summit meeting held Wednesday on the shores of the Red Sea, Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas stood alongside the leaders of Israel, Jordan, and the US and declared that his government "will exert every effort and we will use every means available to us to end the armed intifada" (uprising) against Israel. He added: "We must use peaceful means in our endeavor to end the occupation," which began when Israeli forces seized the Palestinian territories in 1967.

These remarks may signal the end of the war that Israelis and Palestinians have fought against each other for nearly three years.

If Mr. Abbas can stop violence against Israel - and he may need to battle Palestinian militants to do so - the Palestinians will end up laying down the arms they have wielded against their occupiers without any significant gains.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon also promised Wednesday to promote peace by dismantling settlement "outposts" and improving living conditions for the Palestinians his forces have besieged.

But the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has never been a battle of equals, and Israel's position is increasingly dominant.

The Israelis have succeeded in sidelining Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, in promoting a view of the conflict as a struggle between Palestinian "terrorists" and Israelis defending their "security," and in demonstrating that if Israel holds firm, the Palestinians will blink.

Indeed, Abbas is preparing to negotiate with an Israeli leader who forsees a Palestinian state that is approximately half the size of the territory that former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak discussed ceding to the Palestinians in talks just three years ago.

President Bush - at whose behest Wednesday's summit was held - vowed to ride herd as the two parties follow a US-backed peace plan known as the road map. "The Holy Land must be shared between the state of Palestine and the state of Israel," Mr. Bush said.

'[The Palestinians] have failed'

In his peacemaking foray, Bush is venturing where many others have failed. But he also stands to improve his own standing and America's image among the Arabs, many of whom are angry at the US for its unstinting support for Israel and its conduct of the war in Iraq.

Even before the leaders' speeches, Israeli officials were striking a tone somewhere between vindication and triumph.

The Palestinians have realized "that after 32 months of a futile attempt to subdue Israel through terrorism, the only way to achieve their national goals is through negotiation," says Sharon spokesman Raanan Gissin.

"Thirty-two months. They failed," Mr. Gissin stressed. "The leader who led them," he added, referring to Mr. Arafat, "is not here today. There's a reason for that."

But he and other Israeli officials repeatedly insisted that the Palestinians would have to follow official statements about halting violence with actions, and promised the world if they do.

"If they take real steps against terrorism, then everything can be worked out," said Gissin.