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Olmert with Mubarak
Photo: Moshe Milner, GPO
Olmert and Abbas
Photo: Reuters
'We've turned Fatah's downfall into opportunity for peace'
Olmert pledges release of 250 Fatah prisoners at Sharm el-Sheik summit, calls on regional leaders to strengthen Abbas, aid in renewing peace process. Now, say Olmert's aides, the ball is in Abbas' court

SHARM EL-SHEIKH – After delivering a speech laden with messages of peace and regional cooperation, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was satisfied on his way back from the from the Sharm el-Sheik summit.

 

"Within eight days Olmert has managed to turn the downfall of Fatah in the Gaza Strip into an opportunity for peace. He's got the backing of the United States, the Quartet and now the moderate Arab states as well," said a senior aide to the prime minister after the summit.

 

Despite the declarations of satisfaction however, it should be noted that no tangible agreements emerged from the summit, no solution to combat the increasing Hamas-driven terrorism in Gaza.

 

The Sharm el-Sheik summit is linked of course to Olmert's visit to Washinton last week. In his meetings with US President George W. Bush the prime minister planned out the concept of using Fatah's downfall in Gaza as a prelude to serious political dialogue.

 

The summit on Monday may indeed have signaled the beginning of such a process to the international

community, but each of the participants also had an internal message for their respective publics back home. Olmert in his call to end terrorism, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and King Abdullah II of Jordan in their call for Arab unity and Abbas in his demands of Israel on behalf of the Palestinian public.


The four leaders on Monday (Photo: GPO)

 

Olmert came to the summit armed with several surprise gestures for Abbas to take home as dowry on the heels of one of the most trying times for the Palestinian Authority. Besides the release of 250 Fatah prisoners Olmert also pledged Israel would provide equipment to Fatah forces and open roadblocks in the West Bank to ease restrictions on the Palestinian public.

 

This in addition to the gestures reported by Palestinian official Saeb Erekat, that Israel would grant immunity to wanted Fatah men in the West Bank and retreat its forces to the September 2000 lines in the region.

 

"The prime minister proved that his intentions to promote peace talks with Abbas are serious," said an Israeli State official, "however in private talks Olmert demanded that Abbas also prove his sincerity to combat terror and lead the Palestinian Authority towards a peace process with Israel."

 

'Abbas must prove he is a true leader' 

Sources in Jerusalem said after the summit that now the truly hard work begins: "The prime minister has proved he is serious, not Abbas must prove the same. First he must adhere to the three conditions set by the international community – recognize Israel, comply with previous accords and denounce terrorism. Likewise he must actively combat terror."

 

Abbas meanwhile left the summit with a serious dilemma on his hands. On the one hand Olmert's demands and those of the international community to combat terror and on the other hand Mubarak's call for Palestinian unity. Abbas, said an official from the Israeli delegation, must now prove "what he's made of – is he a leader or not."

 

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