From Mon Dec 13 07:15:11 2004
Date: Wed, 8 Dec 2004 00:59:11 -0600 (CST)
From: Gershon Baskin <>
Subject: [IPCRI-News-Service] Britain to host Mid-East peace summit
Article: 198541
To: undisclosed-recipients: ;;sessionid=1M43T0YOTB5ADQFIQMF CNAGAVCBQYJVC?xml=/news/2004/12/06/wmid06.xml

Britain to host Mid-East peace summit

By Anton La Guardia, Diplomatic Editor, The Telegraph, 12 June 2004

Britain has won American agreement to hold an international peace conference on the Middle East in London early next year, The Telegraph has learned.

The meeting, planned for late January or early February, is likely to be attended by foreign ministers.

Tony Blair: talks must stick to ‘practical issues’

But it is not yet clear that Israel will send a delegation at that level. If it does not attend, the conference is expected to go ahead with the Palestinian, Arab, American and European participants.

Tony Blair will discuss the details with Israeli and Palestinian leaders when he visits the Middle East this month.

Washington appeared to pour cold water on the idea at first when the Prime Minister met President George W Bush last month. But the plan has been quietly revived and now has America's blessing.

Senior diplomatic sources say that preparations for the conference now dominate foreign policy discussions between the US and Britain and are at the heart of attempts to heal the transatlantic divisions caused by the war in Iraq.

Even hard-line supporters of Israel in the Bush administration appear to accept the idea of a conference as a means of shoring up the new Palestinian leadership after the Jan 9 ballot to choose a successor to Yasser Arafat, who died last month.

The conference will probably be announced only after the ballot and will depend on the election of the front-runner, Mahmoud Abbas, who negotiated the Oslo accords.

The challenge by the populist Palestinian leader, Marwan Barghouti, who has said he will stand for election from his Israeli prison cell, could upset Britain's plans.

Washington, which has demanded that the Palestinians choose a new leadership not tainted with terrorism, is unlikely to deal with a man serving five life sentences for masterminding attacks that killed four Israelis and a Greek monk.

If Barghouti is elected, there will be no conference, an Israeli source said. It would be the wrong signal to send to the Israeli electorate.

Even if the moderate Mr Abbas is installed, Britain faces a difficult balancing act. It wants to show the Arab and Islamic world that the West is committed to establishing a Palestinian state, but America and Israel are wary of attending a high-profile event.

The US has made clear that it would oppose a grand gathering like the 1991 Madrid peace conference that launched a campaign for Middle East peace after the first Gulf war.

Instead, America and Israel want a businesslike meeting to focus on practical issues such as rebuilding Palestinian security services and providing financial support for Palestinians after Israel's planned withdrawal from the Gaza Strip next year.

An Israeli source said: We will be able to take part if the British keep it practical. But if it becomes an attempt to dictate terms to Israel, they will lose us along the way.

America believes that the new Palestinian leadership, which will be struggling to establish legitimacy in the eyes of the Palestinian public, would not immediately have the authority to make the compromises to end a century of conflict between Arab and Jew.

Mr Abbas is likely to be instantly denounced if, for instance, he were to abandon the right of return of Palestinian refugees to Israeli territory. Israel regards such a right as demographic suicide.

Washington believes that the best way to begin establishing a durable peace is to build up Palestinian democratic institutions.

Under the road map, which has been stillborn since its launch in April last year, the first steps would be an end to violence, reform of Palestinian institutions and a settlement freeze.

The establishment of a Palestinian state with provisional borders would follow. Only in the third stage would there be talks to resolve the most difficult issues: permanent borders, the status of Jerusalem, the fate of settlements and the return of refugees.

The road map envisages two international conferences: at the start of Stages 2 and 3. Israel is determined that the proposed conference should not be seen as skipping Stage 1.