In a decisive showdown in the Sinai on Monday, key regional and world leaders will goad Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and PLO chief Yasser Arafat to meet face-to-face to discuss terms for ending the lethal Palestinian uprising over the past two weeks. There appears to be little reason for optimism that a truce can be concluded quickly, or that the Oslo peace process can be revived anytime soon.
Barak announced his decision this weekend to attend without any preconditions the summit tomorrow in the Sinai resort of Sharm e-Sheikh, to be hosted by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. The fate of the gathering was held up until heavy international pressure forced Arafat into attending as well. Joining them will be US President Bill Clinton, who along with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and numerous European diplomats, has been striving over the past eight days to prevent an outbreak of war and to salvage Oslo.
The UN and Egypt reportedly are drawing up an agenda for the summit. Organizers say that the outcome could affect world peace and global prosperity. Speaking to reporters about the violence in Israel over the past two weeks, Kofi Annan said, "This is an urgent and major crisis for all of us."
Barak says that the summit will only succeed if certain conditions are met, and officials in the Prime Ministerâ€™s office were slow to voice optimism. In a communique today, the Foreign Ministry published a set of conditions for the success of the summit. These included the re-arrest by the Palestinian Authority of the tens of Hamas and Islamic Jihad prisoners released last week, the taking of steps against shooting by the armed "Tanzim" squads of Fatah and the PA police in the future, a halt to incitement by the PA media, and preservation of holy places - such as Joseph's Tomb in Nablus and the Shalom al Yisrael synagogue in Jericho - according to signed agreements.
All of the demands stem from clear violations of agreements which the PA is party to, the statement said. Officials in the Prime Minister's office yesterday also mentioned the disarming of Arafat's Fatah faction, and the punishment of those reponsible for the lynching of two Israeli soldiers on Thursday.
When asked in an interview with Wolf Blitzer on CNN today whether Arafat really wants peace, Barak responded, "I cannot penetrate his soul. I judge him by his behavior." Barak also said that Arafat "deliberately decided to prefer confrontation" over negotiations during the past two weeks of violence in Israel.
Barak, however, continues to leave a window of opportunity open for the peace negotiations. "We will never lose our hope for peace. We will ultimately have peace with the Palestinians," Barak emphasized in the interview, adding, "We will live side by side with our neighbors in peace.... Whatever happens we will leave a door open for possible change."
The head of Fatah in the "West Bank," Marwan Barghouti, has said that the PA's participation in tomorrow's planned meeting, should not be interpreted as a cessation of the intifada. "Our operations will continue until the establishment of a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital," added Barghouti. Fatah - Arafat's own faction within the larger PLO network - has called on Palestinians to join newly formed militias throughout PA areas, amid rumors that Arafat intends to declare an independent Palestinian state soon.
The IDF has stated that the confrontation is by no means over, and that the closure clamped on the territories is still in effect, with the exception of the transportation of humanitarian aid and medicines to PA areas. Israeli officials continue to warn of a possible terrorist threat against civilian targets in Israel aimed at thwarting efforts at the Sharm e-Sheikh on Monday. Israeli security officials are concerned over a wave of terror, encouraged by the PA's "green light" when Arafat virtually emptied PA prisons of convicted Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists, among them master bomb-makers, terror-cell operators and trained suicide bombers.
More shots were fired in Hebron last night, into the Jewish enclaves there. Today, a Palestinian vehicle tried to run over an IDF soldier near Beit El. The soldier managed to evade the car and fired shots in the air.
The very fact that an emergency Mideast summit has been arranged is remarkable given the state of things only a few days ago. Egypt's Mubarak last week refused to host such a gathering, stating that the "next summit" would be the Arab League summit in Cairo - still slated for this coming weekend. But Annan's personal intervention in the region and Clinton's desperate telephone diplomacy somehow changed Mubarak's mind. European officials also descended in droves on regional capitals to stress the need to avert a widening conflict.
Exactly what altered Mubarak's stance is unclear, but US sources suggest he was concerned that indeed Arafat was dragging the Middle East into a religious war that would ignite Islamic fundamentalist fires in his own country. Jordan's King Abdallah II also feared instability in his country due to its large Palestinian population.
Used with Permission from International Christian Embassy Jerusalem.