Ayalon to meet PA officials in Morocco

Key Israeli, Palestinian figures to attend, but no Hamas members.

ami ayalon stern 298 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
ami ayalon stern 298
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Senior Labor MK Ami Ayalon is expected to participate in an unofficial dialogue attended by both Israelis and Fatah Party members in Morocco next month, it was reported on Monday. Ayalon was to attend the meeting despite a ban that Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert placed Sunday on Israeli officials meeting with counterparts from the Palestinian Authority. The conference is to be conducted by The Economist journalist Claud Senouf, and is meant to show that dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians is possible in despite current tensions. According to Senouf, the central message that Senouf hoped would come out of the meeting was that dialogue was preferable over unilateral steps. The delegation will only hold talks with PA members who did not belong to Hamas. Senouf told The Jerusalem Post that only figures who were known to support cooperation and dialogue between Israelis and the Palestinians were invited to the conference. In addition to Ayalon, former UN ambassador Yehuda Lankry and Prof. Eli Bar-Navi were invited to represent the Israeli side. They will be discussing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with former PA ministers Sufian Abu Zaidah, Yasser Abed Rabbo and Ziad Abu Ziad. Abu Ziad, in an interview on Israel Radio, downplayed the importance of the meeting, saying they were only talks. The meeting was not intended to be an official summit, and would not represent the state, he said. Ayalon, in an Army Radio interview, said that Israel must "find every way to talk with anyone willing to talk to us. If they are weak today - and indeed the Palestinian sources willing to speak to us today are weak - I think we must ask ourselves what we can do to strengthen them." He denied reports of a conflict between himself and Olmert over the planned meeting. He said that, while the government had banned contact with Hamas, he did not think the order applied to meeting Palestinian officials in general, and certainly not pragmatic ones like those whom he would meet in Morocco. Still, he defended the Israeli decision to ban contact with the Hamas. The Prime Minister's Office confirmed that the ban, in fact, did not apply to PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, but that government officials had no intention of meeting with him. Before becoming an MK, Ayalon, a former Shin Bet head, proposed an unofficial peace initiative together with his Palestinian colleague Sari Nusseibeh. The proposal, called the People's Voice, was written as a petition intended to be signed by both Israeli and Palestinian citizens in order to apply pressure on their governments to accept the plan.