Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas said Tuesday that his talks with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert were "tense and difficult," but not a failure. Speaking in Jordan after talks with King Abdullah II, the Palestinian leader said Israel may have "misunderstood" the agreement reached in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, between Fatah and Hamas on February 8.
Trilateral summit makes little progress
"We told Israel that this agreement was made to protect the unity of the Palestinian people and its national interests," he told Jordan's official Petra news agency.
"The agreement is an expression of support for Palestinian interests, but Israel may have misunderstood it," he added.
Earlier, Rice and Abbas huddled separately in Amman with Arab allies alarmed by the power-sharing pact with Hamas.
The planned Palestinian coalition announced earlier this month has fallen far short of what the United States and Israel wanted. It also disappointed Arab states that had hoped Hamas would soften its anti-Israeli policies enough to satisfy the West and restart the flow of vital international aid.
Arab diplomats say Rice invited security and intelligence chiefs from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates to ask their advice on what, if anything, can be done to persuade Hamas to back down.
The session at the government security headquarters in Amman included some of the region's wiliest and best-connected heavies, fixers and go-betweens, including Saudi national security adviser Prince Bandar bin Sultan and Egyptian intelligence head Omar Sulieman. Sulieman has deep ties across Palestinian politics, including with Hamas. Rice has been meeting with him regularly since Hamas won Palestinian parliamentary elections 13 months ago. They last met in Washington just weeks ago.
Rice and Abbas were both meeting Jordanian King Abdullah II, but their sessions were separate. Both were reporting on progress from their three-way summit with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. For Abbas, that meant explaining that he had failed to persuade Israel and Rice that the incoming Palestinian government would fulfill conditions for the restoration of foreign aid.
Abdullah and other Muslim Sunni Arab allies have strongly urged the Bush administration to energize peace efforts between Israel and the Palestinians, partly to improve the Palestinians' lot, partly to tamp down Islamic extremism that those governments see as a threat, and partly to counter the influence of Muslim Shi'ite Iran.
The king told Rice it was imperative that the United States sustained its efforts to revive the Palestinian-Israeli peace process, according to a palace statement issued afterward.
"The longer the time passes without a framework that would help Palestinians and Israelis move forward, the greater the risk of an escalation of tensions," the palace quoted the king as telling Rice.
Abbas also was headed to Germany along with stops in Britain and France in a campaign to convince skeptical Western leaders that the deal he forged earlier this month with Hamas reflects his moderate stand.
At stake is about $1 billion in foreign aid for the Palestinian government.
Monday's summit in Jerusalem with Rice and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert foundered on the issue of the terms of the government, to be made up of Hamas, Abbas's Fatah and carefully chosen independents.
The Israeli and Palestinian leaders, however, did agree to meet again, and Rice said she expected to return to the region soon to revive the "road map."
"I hope that the Arab states also understand that they have a role to play in this," Rice told reporters in Jerusalem. "This isn't just what the United States can talk about with the Israelis and the Palestinians. How about some of the ideas that were there in the Arab initiative? Why can't we get some of that going, too?"
Rice was referring to a dormant 2002 Arab peace proposal that would have offered wide Arab diplomatic recognition of Israel in exchange for Israel's retreat to the 1967 borders.
"I don't want others to stand on the sideline and say, you know, the United States needs to deliver the completion of the roadmap. Everybody's got obligations. And one thing that I'll be talking to the Arabs about is what can you to do make this happen."
Olmert said he and Abbas agreed to maintain an open channel of communication, focused both on improving the lives of Palestinians and stopping Palestinian violence.
Palestinians were dissatisfied. "What we have heard today has nothing to do with a partnership," said Mohammed Dahlan, an Abbas confidant.
He said the new government would be formed, despite the criticism. "There is no backing down," Dahlan said.
On Monday, Olmert called Egyptian President Mubarak to update him on the details of the summit.