Israel, Arabs to show support for Abbas
( AP ) - Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert cautioned against expectations of major progress toward peace at Monday's summit with the Palestinian president and his Arab supporters, but expressed hope the meeting could lead to renewed talks.
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has invited Olmert and Jordan's King Abdullah II to meet with him and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in this Red Sea resort.
The summit is intended to show support for the Palestinian leader in his struggle with Hamas, the militant group that took over the Gaza Strip last week from forces loyal to Abbas. In a goodwill gesture, Israel on Sunday released some of the $550 million in funds it has withheld from the Palestinian government.
Monday's meeting is also meant to showcase that Abbas and his more moderate Fatah movement can move ahead with peacemaking. Olmert played down expectations on that front in a speech to American Jewish leaders in Jerusalem before leaving for Egypt.
"Don't wait impatiently tonight for the outcome as if at the end of the day you are going to see us sitting and signing a peace treaty. It will take time," he said.
Still, he said, the meeting was significant because the entire Arab world "will see two very prominent national leaders shaking hands with the head of the Palestinian Authority and the prime minister of the state of Israel, together, expressing a genuine desire to build up a process focusing not on terror, not on hatred, not on rejection, not on fighting each other, but on making peace."
The Sharm el-Sheik summit comes a day ahead of a gathering in Jerusalem of the Quartet of Mideast negotiators - the U.S., EU, U.N. and Russia. The hope was that the meeting in Egypt would bring new momentum to international efforts to prod peace talks that broke down amid violence in 2001.
Fatah and Arab leaders have urged Israel to take immediate advantage of Abbas' uncharacteristic determination to stand up to Hamas.
Since losing control of Gaza, Abbas has expelled Hamas from the coalition government, set up an emergency Cabinet, and embarked on a widening crackdown on the Islamic group that has included arrests of hundreds of gunmen in the West Bank and a plan to dry up its funding.
Olmert repeated his stance that he is ready to discuss a Saudi initiative offering a comprehensive peace agreement with Israel in exchange for a withdrawal from all territories Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast war.
But he said such negotiations were no substitute for direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. "It's not going to be simple and not going to be easy," he said. "It's going to be a long and painful road."
Peace efforts no doubt will be complicated by the emergence of a two-headed Palestine, ruled by the Iranian-backed Hamas in Gaza and the Western-backed Fatah in the West Bank.
Speaking in Gaza, deposed Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail of Hamas, denounced summit hopes as "illusions" and a "mirage." He said, "the Americans won't give anything. Israel won't give us anything. Our land, our nation will not come back to us except with steadfastness and resistance."
Earlier Sunday, Olmert's Cabinet approved the release of tax funds that Israel collects on behalf of the Palestinians but has withheld since Hamas swept Palestinian parliamentary elections in January 2006. Israel is holding $550 million in frozen funds, but the Cabinet did not say how much of the money would be released, or when.
The Israeli freeze on the money rendered past Palestinian governments unable to pay full salaries to government employees, causing hardship in the already impoverished territories.
In Jordan, where he met with Abdullah before the talks, Abbas was more optimistic about the summit, saying he received U.S. and Israeli assurances that the Jewish state was ready to make progress at the meeting in Egypt.
Egypt's Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit also was more hopeful that progress would be made Monday, telling reporters the purpose of the meeting was to begin rebuilding confidence between the Israelis and Palestinians "until the road is open to restart negotiations between the two sides".
Egypt and Jordan have thrown their support behind Abbas, fearing Hamas' Gaza takeover could spread turmoil.
On Tuesday, Mubarak is to meet with Saudi King Abdullah in Sharm el-Sheik, seeking to unify an Arab front behind Abbas.
Mubarak is afraid a Hamas-ruled Gaza on his country's border could embolden Egypt's own banned Islamic opposition, the Muslim Brotherhood, and spawn terror attacks. Abdullah is afraid the Fatah-Hamas conflict could spread to the West Bank and spill over to neighboring Jordan, where about half the population is Palestinian.
And both, along with Saudi Arabia, are afraid Gaza could become a forward position for their regional foe, Iran.