Barak Ravid
Haaretz (Opinion)
April 10, 2008 - 2:00pm

The United States is keen on holding a summit at the Sinai resort of Sharm el-Sheikh to coincide with President George Bush's visit to Israel next month for the country's 60th anniversary celebrations.

Bush would like to use the event as a way station in the diplomatic process, following November's Annapolis conference, so as to provide another boost to efforts to reach an agreement by the end of the year over the core issues for a final-status agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.

Senior political sources in Jerusalem confirmed this development, which was first revealed by MK Yossi Beilin at a press conference Tuesday. Beilin said that President Hosni Mubarak and Bush would host the summit, and will invite Jordan's King Abdullah, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

According to the Israeli sources, the American initiative is still in the early planning stages, but was raised in talks with officials in Israel.

"There is still no clear date," the sources said. "But it will be an event that will be held at the same time as the visit of President Bush to Israel during the first part of the second week in May, or during the third week of May."

Sources in the prime minister's bureau on Tuesday said that "we have not received any requests for a summit, but if such a request is made we will consider it."

Bush is scheduled to visit Israel between May 14-16. Contrary to his previous visit in January, this visit will focus on Independence Day celebrations, but it seems that Bush would like to give his visit to the region a political tone.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice held a telephone conversation with Abbas Tuesday and was briefed on the details of his meeting with Olmert on Monday. Abbas will visit Washington in 10 days time, and will meet with Bush. The summit proposal will most likely be a central topic on his agenda.

On Tuesday, the Israeli and Palestinian Authority negotiating teams, headed by Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Ahmed Qureia, met in Jerusalem. The meeting included three experts on each side and concentrated on both core issues and also civilian matters.

Olmert meanwhile visited the Hebron area Tuesday and met with commanders of the Israel Defense Force's Judea Brigade. The prime minister stressed that "preserving security in the West Bank is very important in order to create an atmosphere that will support the diplomatic process."

Olmert toured areas where the IDF had removed some of the 60 roadblocks and dirt obstacles that had been set up in the West Bank, and said that "the matter of easing the lives of Palestinians in the West Bank is important because only this way will they be able to sense change on the ground, and that there is a chance that the peace process will succeed and that there is a reason to reject the extremists."

In a separate development, Livni will reportedly travel to Qatar in the near future where she is expected to meet with Syrian officials, according to Al Jazeera, a Kuwaiti daily newspaper. According to the report, which was filed by its reporter in Israel, the meeting will conclude two years of secret meetings between officials from Israel and Syria, whose purpose was to evaluate the chances for a peace agreement between the two countries.

The report also said that Livni would raise the issue of Gilad Shalit, the IDF soldier held in the Gaza Strip by Hamas.


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