Sum­mitwhich maynot­peak

Ne­go­tia­tors bat­tle to win agree­ment ahead of the in­ter­na­tional meet­ing

The Jewish Chronicle - - NEWS - BY JEFF BARAK JERUSALEM NATHANGUTTMAN WASH­ING­TON

US SEC­RE­TARY of State Con­doleezza Rice is due to ar­rive in Is­rael this week­end. It will be her sev­enth visit to the re­gion this year — and her latest at­tempt to prod Is­rael and the Pales­tini­ans ahead of the An­napo­lis con­fer­ence, in Mary­land.

No fi­nal date has yet been set for the Wash­ing­ton-spon­sored sum­mit later this month and no in­vi­ta­tions have been sent, al­though Is­raeli and Pales­tinian ne­go­ti­at­ing teams are work­ing “in­ten­sively” to pre­pare a state­ment, ac­cord­ing to a se­nior Is­raeli of­fi­cial.

But all those in­volved have been at pains to play down any hopes of progress.

“It’s clear that An­napo­lis won’t solve all the prob­lems of the Mid­dle East and we have to be re­al­is­tic as to what can be achieved,” the Is­raeli of­fi­cial told the JC.

In Wash­ing­ton, a se­nior State De­part­ment of­fi­cial also tried to set ex­pec­ta­tions at a rea­son­able level. “We’re hope­ful, we’re op­ti­mistic, and we’re de­ter­mined,” he said, while re­peat­edly stress­ing that the goal was only “try­ing to sup­port” Is­raelis and Pales­tini­ans to­wards an agree­ment.

Wash­ing­ton wants both sides to agree on a sub­stan­tive doc­u­ment which will deal with the con­flict’s core is­sues, mainly borders, Jerusalem and refugees. Is­rael aims to pro­vide a “fo­cused dis­cus­sion on the fi­nal hori­zon” of a peace agree­ment based on the joint dec­la­ra­tion. That dec­la­ra­tion could then be en­dorsed by the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity and, most im­por­tantly, by the mod­er­ate Arab states.

Much de­pends on the Arab coun­tries who ac­tu­ally show up. If Saudi Ara­bia at­tends, and be­gins play­ing a sup­port­ive role, the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion will be able to cel­e­brate a ma­jor for­eign-pol­icy achieve­ment.

Yet agree­ing terms for the joint dec­la­ra­tion is prov­ing dif­fi­cult. Is­raeli For­eign Min­is­ter Tzipi Livni has said that both sides “have to find the widest pos­si­ble com­mon ground”, while Pales­tinian Pres­i­dent Mah­moud Ab­bas has so far in­sisted that the dec­la­ra­tion “must in­clude the six ma­jor is­sues that are Jerusalem, refugees, borders, set­tle­ments, wa­ter and se­cu­rity”. He also in­sisted that Is­rael re­turn all land cap­tured in 1967.

Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ehud Olmert’s right-wing coali­tion part­ners, mean- while, have threat­ened to quit the gov­ern­ment if any com­pro­mise is made on Jerusalem or the refugee is­sue.

Is­rael also in­sists there will be no time­line for the im­ple­men­ta­tion of fi­nal-sta­tus is­sues, while chief Pales­tinian ne­go­tia­tor Ahmed Qurei said on Tues­day there would be no talks with Is­rael un­less a dead­line was set for es­tab­lish­ing a Pales­tinian state.

Den­nis Ross, a for­mer Mid­dle East en­voy with the most hands-on ex­pe­ri­ence in bro­ker­ing ne­go­ti­a­tions, ar­gued last week that Ms Rice is not do­ing enough to get the par­ties closer and that, if she wants shut­tle diplo­macy, “she ac­tu­ally has to shut­tle”. For­mer US am­bas­sador to Is­rael Daniel Kurtzer said the ad­min­is­tra­tion will be mak­ing a mis­take if it agrees to con­vene a sum­mit deal­ing only with in­terim mea­sures. “Our goal should be the end of the Is­raeli-Pales­tinian con­flict,” he said, stress­ing that achiev­ing it might need more prepa­ra­tion.

PHOTO: AP

Ehud Olmert and Mah­moud Ab­bas are al­ready meet­ing reg­u­larly

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