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Sharon set to meet Abbas in Egypt next week
04/02/2005
Eric Silver
ISRAELI PREMIER Ariel Sharon and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will hold their first summit in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh on Tuesday. The Israeli side is determined to focus on security at this stage rather than the broader peace process.

Ra’anan Gissin, Mr Sharon’s spokesman, told the JC: “Before there can be any political negotiations, the Palestinians must fulfil their obligation under the international road map to bring about a cessation of violence, terrorism and incitement. They have to take steps to reform their security services and dismantle the terrorist organisations.”

Mr Sharon, he added, would also try to win Mr Abbas’s co-operation and co-ordination in carrying out the evacuation of soldiers and settlers from the Gaza Strip, due to begin in July and finish by September. Another 38 families signed up this week to move quietly into the Negev.

The Palestinians have made it clear, however, that they will try to broaden the summit agenda. Nabil Amr, who is tipped for Information Minister in Mr Abbas’s new team, said that the President needed a “political umbrella” if he was to wean the gunmen away from violence. “People will not accept a unilateral approach by Sharon,” he said.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak conveyed an invitation for the two leaders to come to Sharm during a visit to Jerusalem and Ramallah on Wednesday by his intelligence chief, General Omar Suleiman. Israel welcomed Egypt’s involvement.

“In order to ensure security and quiet in southern Gaza,” Mr Gissin said, “Egypt can play a very constructive role, particularly with regard to the measures it can take to stop arms-smuggling. If this happens, it will enable Israel to release itself from stationing forces along the border and leave Gaza completely.”

He added that Egypt was already playing a positive role in “bringing pressure on the Palestinian leadership and on the terrorist organisations to cease terrorist activities. That’s one of the reasons we agreed to meet in Sharm.”

Despite a show of political force on Sunday by more than 130,000 disengagement opponents protesting outside the Knesset, the 38 families from the northern Gaza settlements of Elei Sinai and Nisanit agreed to resettle as a group in Bat Hadar, two kilometres south of Ashkelon.

Mali Gross, a mother of four who built her home in Elei Sinai 10 years ago, said she opposed the disengagement, but had to prepare for the “day after” if and when it occurred.

“We looked for a place nearby, so as not to cut off the children from their schools and their friends. We also wanted to be near the sea,” she said.

A spokesman for the government’s disengagement authority told the JC that negotiations were under way with five additional groups from Gaza and northern Samaria. After this week’s announcement, he added, many other groups and individuals had registered an interest.

The Jerusalem Post reported that Zvi Hendel, the only MK living in a Gaza settlement, had quietly appointed a legal team to investigate the feasibility of moving several communities to seafront sites between Ashkelon and Ashdod.

As chairman of the far-right National Union party, Mr Hendel has been an outspoken critic of the Sharon disengagement plan.

But he told the Post: “If we lose this struggle, we need to do something to ensure that we stay a community.”

Meanwhile, new American Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said this week that no peace between Israel and the Palestinians would be possible until a Palestinian state was established.

“I don’t think any of us doubt that without a Palestinian state that is viable, that can represent the aspirations of the Palestinian people, that there really isn’t going to be a peace for either the Palestinian people or for the Israelis,” Professor Rice said on the eve of a trip to Europe and the Middle East.

Professor Rice is due to spend the end of the week in Israel and on the West Bank.


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