Amr Moussa 224.88.
(photo credit: AP [file])
Israel and the Arab world jostled on Wednesday over the content and makeup of the international meeting on the Middle East scheduled for the US later in the year, as Foreign Ministry Tzipi Livni strove to deflate expectations and Arab League head Amr Moussa warned against a "useless political demonstration."
Speaking to a meeting of Arab foreign ministers in Cairo, Moussa said it was "imperative that the gathering should not be meaningless and a useless political demonstration."
"Otherwise," he said, "this would only maintain the status quo."
Moussa accused Israel of trying to "divest the conference of any meaning."
A day earlier, Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak said the meeting "should not be another lost chance similar to previous meetings." His foreign minister, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, insisted that only a well-defined agenda could ensure the conference's success.
Israel and the Palestinians are at odds about whether the talks will deal with a broad "agreement of principles," which Israel is advocating, or a more detailed "framework of agreement," including timelines, which the Palestinians want to see.
The Cairo meeting was meant to work out a unified Arab stand toward the conference in the US, and Moussa's statement echoed increasing Arab concerns about its outcome.
Saudi Arabia is considered a key player in the conference, and although it initially articulated some support for the initiative, one Israeli government official said Wednesday that at this point "it could go either way" whether the Saudis will participate. The official said the Saudis had "placed some conditions" on their participation, but he would not spell them out.
The US is believed to be working hard behind the scenes to ensure Saudi participation.
Livni, at a press conference in Jerusalem with visiting Italian Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema, gave voice to Israel's perception of what should come out of the conference. "Everyone is talking about the meeting in November, but what is more important is the outcome of the bilateral dialogue between Prime Minister Olmert and President Mahmoud Abbas, since the idea is that if they reach an understanding on several issues this could be something that could be embraced in the meeting by the Arab world and the intentional community," Livni said.
This in turn, Livni said in one of the few public statements clarifying how Israel views the entire process, "could launch ongoing negotiations on more concrete issues later on."
The Prime Minister's Office confirmed that Olmert and Abbas were scheduled to meet early next week, before the arrival of US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, expected immediately after Rosh Hashana.
While saying that the two sides were working on "the bilateral dialogue," Livni said it was important to have realistic expectations.
"I believe that sometimes higher expectations can lead to frustration, and frustration can lead - especially in Palestinian society - to violence," she said.
Livni pointed to the Palestinian violence that began in September 2000 as a result of the breakdown of the Camp David negotiations as an example.
"Basically, I would like to see more realistic expectations," she said. "At the end of the day we have to understand that the situation is complicated." She also said that "implementation of any understanding will be according to performance on the ground."
The US-sponsored meeting, as well as Israel's call for the EU to continue isolating Hamas, was at the center of meetings D'Alema held in Jerusalem on a one-day visit Wednesday. He has been one of the main voices in Europe calling for some sort of dialogue with Hamas.
Despite the less than positive statements about the proposed international conference in the US that came out of Cairo on Wednesday, D'Alema, who met with Mubarak before coming to Israel, said, "I think that our Arab friends are seriously committed" to the meeting.
"My opinion after meeting so many Arab leaders, including Mubarak, is that the Arab world is ready to finally have peace with Israel, and they are truly supporting the idea of a viable Palestinian state, a peaceful, democratic Palestine state. This is a great occasion."
D'Alema said he proposed to Moussa that the Arab League open a liaison office in Israel.
"I think it would be an important signal to the Israeli government and for public opinion," the Italian foreign minister said. "He did not answer no. There are some problems. I think it will be important, we will see."
AP contributed to this report.