ICEJ NEWS - 09/03/2001
Saluted on Monday as "a one-man peace process," Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres continues to press on with plans to meet with PLO chief Yasser Arafat in Italy on Friday, despite the on-going violence and the Palestinian leader's broadside against Israeli "war crimes" at the UN conference on racism in Durban.
With the Americans happily relegated to the sidelines, the European Union's top foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, has been in the region in recent days trying to put the full weight of the EU behind a possible Peres-Arafat encounter at an upcoming economic conference later this week. The timing and venue has arisen because both men were previously scheduled to attend the business gathering near Milan. There is talk of holding the meeting in the presence of three EU foreign ministers, from Italy, Germany and France.
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has also joined the intensifying diplomatic effort, trekking to Damascus today to try to convince Syrian dictator Bashar Assad not to punish Arafat for such a meeting by cancelling his invitation to the PLO chief for September 12. And Jordan's King Abdullah II hosted Arafat in Amman today, trying his best to put the two together in a room for talks.
Arafat was returning from the racism conference in Durban, where he again blasted Israel for using "uranium weapons" against Palestinians, one of many outlandish charges levelled against the "racist" Jewish State.
Peres, however, seems undeterred, criticizing Arafat's "harsh and disappointing" speech, yet insisting he has no choice but to pursue the meeting. Peres merely cautioned against setting unrealistic expectations for the rendezvous, which has yet to be finalized despite all the diplomatic lobbying.
His unrelenting drive to salvage the battered remains of Oslo led the leftist Israeli daily HA'ARETZ today to describe Peres as "virtually a one-man peace process."
Peres recently won approval from Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to hold direct talks with PLO officials, including Arafat, but only on condition the discussions are limited to ending the violence and improving the economic plight of the Palestinians. The Palestinians, however, are saying they will not attend if the scope of the talks are limited to these two points.
In Amman today, Arafat said he is prepared to meet Peres anytime, but wondered aloud, "What are we going to discuss?"
Palestinian Authority minister Yasser Abed Rabbo reiterated their hardened stance yesterday, saying, "Our nation will continue the intifada until the Israeli occupation ends and a Palestinian state is established with Jerusalem as its capital," he said. "The ball is in the Israelis' court. The Israelis must understand that only the end of the occupation will bring peace."
Nonetheless, Peres cites the hastily-arranged truce in Beit Jalla as a positive sign that Arafat can bring an end to the violence if he so desires. "I admit that I had butterflies in my stomach about the opening of the school year in Gilo, but the fact that the firing on Gilo from Beit Jalla has stopped proves that Arafat has control over his forces," Peres said yesterday. He is again contending that the PA realizes it has gained nothing substantial from the intifada and is now ready to call it quits.
An Arafat-Peres meeting may be preceded by a mini-Arab summit between Arafat and leaders from Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Saudi Arabia to coordinate a united stand against Israel. Arafat was in Saudi Arabia on Sunday, where he met with King Fahd and Crown Prince Abdullah. The Saudis are quietly pressing US President George W. Bush to finally hold his first meeting with Arafat this month at the UN General Assembly in New York.
French Foreign Minister Hubert Verdine yesterday compared the Bush administration's handling of the situation to Pontius Pilate's washing his hands of any guilt for ordering the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. "Their wait-and-see policy risks making them look like Pontius Pilate," he said in an interview published in Thursday's Le Figaro newspaper.
Meanwhile, Sharon headed to Moscow today for a four-day visit in which he will seek support for Israel's position in the current Middle East crisis and try to persuade Russian President Vladimir Putin to end military and nuclear assistance to Iran. Ties between Russia and Israel continue to warm, but Jerusalem as well as Washington are concerned with Moscow's transfer of advanced military and nuclear technology to Iran and other regional states antagonistic to Israel and the West. Israel TV Channel 1 reported that Sharon will propose joint aerospace and satellite projects to compensate for the diminished revenue from selling military technology to Iran
In a fluke of scheduling by the Kremlin, Sharon's visit was to coincide with a trip to Moscow by Iranian Defense Minister Adm. Ali Shamkhani, who has quickly postponed his arms shopping excursion until after the Israeli leader leaves town. Iran reportedly is looking to upgrade its aging air force and anti-aircraft missile systems in a deal valued at between $7 billion and $10 billion.
Used with Permission from International Christian Embassy Jerusalem.