Calls raised for tougher Abbas stance

Israel and US prepare ahead of trilateral Jerusalem summit.

olmert abbas close 298.8 (photo credit: AP [file])
olmert abbas close 298.8
(photo credit: AP [file])
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert met Tuesday night with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Defense Minister Amir Peretz to plan for Monday's trilateral meeting among Olmert, Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas and US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, as voices inside the Israeli and American administrations called for taking a tougher approach toward Abbas. Rather than coddling Abbas with promises of a "diplomatic horizon," there are some in Jerusalem advocating making the meeting "uncomfortable for him" because he "signed a deal with the devil" in Mecca. According to this way of thinking, Abbas snubbed his nose at Olmert - who had spelled out how far he was willing to go in his Sde Boker speech - and at the US, who has been working to strengthen him, by agreeing to a national unity government that does not recognize Israel, accept previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements or forswear terrorism. While some in Jerusalem advocate making the session uncomfortable, there is talk in Washington of making it clear to Abbas that this could be the last meeting of this sort for a long time - depending on how the final Palestinian national unity government document looks. Top intelligence officials and staffers briefed Olmert, Peretz and Livni on the outlook following the Mecca agreement, Abbas's standing and whether he is in any position to implement any understandings that might come out of the trilateral meeting. One official said Israel was going forward with the summit, not because of any expectation that it would yield any concrete result, but rather because if it canceled the meeting it would be cast in the role of the party placing obstacles in the way of diplomatic progress. Rice is scheduled to arrive in Israel on Saturday, and is expected to hold separate meetings with Olmert and Abbas before their joint summit. Though the meeting will take place in Jerusalem, no venue has yet been announced. Meanwhile, Olmert is scheduled to travel to Turkey on Wednesday for a quick visit in which he will brief Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on his expectations for the trilateral meeting and Israel's understanding of the meaning of a Palestinian unity government. Erdogan, who is considering running for Turkey's presidency in April, is expected to use the visit to demonstrate to the Turkish public that Ankara's close strategic ties with Israel are beneficial because he can press the Palestinian cause directly with Israel. Likewise, he is expected to raise the issue of the excavation work at the Mughrabi Gate outside the Temple Mount. Nevertheless, diplomatic officials said that because both sides wanted to see the visit "succeed," it was unlikely that either issue would cast too heavy a cloud over the trip. Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski's decision Sunday evening to hold up construction of the Mughrabi Gate bridge for a new planning review, the officials said, helped defuse the tension. Olmert, according to Israeli officials, will explain to the Turkish prime minister the reason for the work, and explain that Israel has no intention of damaging the holy sites on the Mount. Diplomatic officials said the timing of the visit was also beneficial to Erdogan because it comes as the US Congress will once more deal with a proposed resolution that would condemn as genocide the early 20th century killings of up to 1.5 million Armenians. Erdogan will ask Olmert to put in a good word with Jewish organizations in Washington to lobby against the resolution, the officials said. The last Israeli prime minister to visit turkey was Ariel Sharon, in August 2001, and before that Ehud Barak visited in October 1999. Erdogan visited Jerusalem in May 2004. Olmert visited Turkey as minister of industry and trade in July 2005 and, during a meeting with Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul helped ease tensions that resulted from very critical comments Erdogan made about Israel, and persistent rumors that Israel was training Kurdish commandos in northern Iraq. In addition to dealing with the Palestinian issue, Olmert's talks in Ankara will focus on Syria - Turkey has tried in the past to play a mediation role between Jerusalem and Damascus - as well as with Iran. The major bilateral issues on the agenda are a Turkish project to revitalize the Erez industrial zone, a proposed multi-billion dollar pipeline from the Black Sea to the Red Sea, and the opening of a Turkish cultural center in Jaffa. Olmert will also meet with President Ahmet Necdet Sezer, Parliament Speaker Bulent Arinc and Gul. He is scheduled to return early Friday morning. Also on Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin urged Abbas to set up an efficient government that would be taken seriously by Israel in order to reach a final peace settlement. Meeting in Amman before the Russian leader's departure at the end of a three-country Mideast tour, Putin called for the "formation of an efficient Palestinian government so that an appropriate climate could be established for the lifting of the siege against the Palestinians and for the opening final status negotiations with the Israelis." During a 50-minute meeting, Abbas briefed Putin on the agreement reached between Fatah and Hamas during last week's talks in Mecca. AP contributed to this report.•