Momentum builds for Mideast peace summit
But Israelis, Palestinians have no blueprint yet for talks to begin Tuesday.
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She says that too much emphasis is being put on whether Israeli and Palestinian negotiations can get to a substantive joint statement ahead of next week's meeting.Skip to next paragraph
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"Annapolis is the opening point for a discussion on the core issues," she says. "It's not supposed to give a solution to the core issues; it's supposed to frame them."
Palestinians, however, hold a different view. President Mahmoud Abbas cannot, in his weakened position, agree to a conference that will seem mostly like a photo opportunity, many Palestinians say.
Palestinian Information Minister Riad al-Maliki said that Palestinians would go to Annapolis with the expectation that Israel would "open the closed [Palestinian] institutions in Jerusalem, remove settlement outposts and institute a total freeze on the settlement activities, releasing the prisoners and removing the checkpoints," according to the Al-Ayyam newspaper.
"I don't know if we can finalize the document," senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat told Israel's Army Radio after talks late Monday night between the Israeli and Palestinian teams.
Olmert, meanwhile, has taken measured steps in the direction. He said Monday that Israel would free 441 Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails as a confidence-building measure in support of President Abbas.
He also promised that Israel would suspend construction in the West Bank, remove unauthorized settlement outposts, and halt all land expropriations in the West Bank. But those moves are already coming under suspicion from hard-line critics who say he should simultaneously raise the bar on Israeli expectations that Abbas fight militancy.
Israeli newspapers were full yesterday of news of a fatal Palestinian shooting attack on an Israeli settler in his car in the West Bank Monday night. Concern over additional terror attacks remains high.
Michael Oren, a historian and senior fellow at the Shalem Institute in Jerusalem, charged that Olmert should uphold Israel's demand that the Palestinians take steps toward "dismantling the terrorist infrastructure" and recognizing Israel's right to exist.
Mr. Oren also wonders aloud whether Olmert has the political capacity to remove 80,000 to 120,000 Israeli settlers in the West Bank as would likely be required in a peace agreement expected to include substantial territorial swaps.
"I think no forward movement is possible unless it's imposed," Oren says. "It could be imposed by the Arab countries, the Bush administration, the State Department, but it won't happen on its own." Even economic incentives to propel peace forward, he says, won't make a significant difference. "Just because we put economics first, doesn't mean the Palestinians do. They have a whole other set of priorities, one that focuses on honor, religion, and territory."
Nonetheless, Mr. Blair, now the representative of the Quartet, an alliance of countries with an interest in promoting Middle East peace, has been doing his part to bolster the Palestinian economy.
"The greater the political progress, the easier the economic progress. The greater the Palestinian capability on security, the easier the politics and the economics," he said Monday, after announcing four projects – an agroindustrial park in Jericho, an emergency sewage treatment project in Gaza, industrial zones in the West Bank, and a major tourism initiative – all aimed at job creation and economic improvements as a route to promoting peace.