Jerusalem was unfazed by some of the immediate negative Arab responses to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's call for a regional summit, with senior diplomatic officials saying Tuesday night that efforts to push for such a conference would continue. Olmert, at a press conference Sunday evening in Jerusalem with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, proposed "a meeting of all the heads of the Arab states, including - obviously - the Saudi king, whom I see as a very important leader, to have discussions with us."
Editorial: Olmert's serious proposal
The idea, according to senior diplomatic officials, was for a meeting where regional leaders who "believe in dialogue" would meet and express "face to face" their ideas about how to achieve a resolution to the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Olmert's regional summit idea was his initial public reaction to the Arab League Summit's adapting once again the Arab League Initiative from 2002, that called for a full Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 lines and the return of Palestinian refugees in exchange for normal ties.
Even though the terms of the Arab initiative were not acceptable to Israel, diplomatic officials said that there was a feeling that moderate elements in the Arab world were now open for dialogue, "which makes us hopeful that there is something with which we can go forward."
The Al-Watan daily in Saudi Arabia, according to an AFP report, said that Olmert's statements showed "an attempt to transform the initiative, conceived in the context of achieving global peace in the region, into a simple negotiation document that can be subdivided and modified."
PA Information Minister Mustafa Barghouti also rebuffed the idea, releasing a statement saying that Olmert is proposing "normalization measures" with the Arab world "without a solution to the Palestinian problem that would restore rights to the Palestinian people and allow them to create their independent state."
The statement also said that Olmert was "trying to supplant the idea of an international conference for a regional conference, and a global solution for partial and temporary arrangements."
Muhammad al-Madhoun, bureau chief to PA Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, also said that Olmert's statements were "an attempt to empty the Arab peace initiative from its content, because of its refusal to recognize the Palestinian right of return."
In Paris, meanwhile, French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said that the international community should progressively restore aid to the Palestinians, provided the new unity government lives up to international expectations.
Douste-Blazy's comments came after a meeting with PA Foreign Minister Ziad Abu Amr, on a three-day visit to France aimed at securing financial and political support from France and Europe for the new Palestinian government.
Abu Amr told the daily Le Monde that Hamas was undergoing a massive transformation and is "ready to change." He did not say, however, whether Hamas was ready to recognize Israel, renounce terrorism and accept previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements, the Quartet's conditions for renewing direct aid to the PA and contact with Hamas ministers.
Douste-Blazy, in suggesting a gradual restoration of aid, asked for "additional gestures" from the Palestinians, such as the release of kidnapped IDF cpl. Gilad Schalit.
Abu Amr pledged to "work to eliminate any contradiction that may exist" between the position of the Palestinian government and that of the international community, but did not elaborate.
Abu Amr said he thought Hamas was willing to change its ideology in order to remain a political player. "I must admit I'm both surprised and impressed with the speed and the magnitude of Hamas's transformation," he is quoted as saying. He cited Hamas's willingness to accept a future Palestinian state contained within territory Israel occupied in the 1967 war as an example of the movement's ideological shift.
"One year ago, the movement would never have accepted a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders," Abu Amr said. "When things move with such speed in one year, it makes me think the movement is ready to change."
Meanwhile, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Monday urged patience for Fatah and Hamas factions in the new unity government as they coordinate their positions on the Quartet's conditions. Ban, who just completed an 11-day Middle East trip, said "it may take time for them to make their own positions coordinated among themselves."
"Therefore, I would hope that while the international community encouraged them to change their positions and perform well in meeting the expectations of the international community, we would also hope to be a little bit patient on this matter," Ban said.
In addition to visiting Israel and the PA, Ban attended the Arab League summit in Riyadh. He said he was encouraged that Arab leaders "are determined to visit this issue again as a foundation for establishing a good relationship and peace between Israel and Arab countries, and particularly between Israel and the Palestinian Authority."
AP contributed to this report.