EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana will hold talks in Jerusalem and Ramallah on Wednesday, kicking off a period of high-profile diplomatic activity that will see a meeting of the Quartet in Lisbon on Thursday, a quick visit by new Quartet envoy Tony Blair on Monday, and visits by the Egyptian and Jordanian Foreign ministers, as representatives of the Arab League, next Wednesday. The sudden surge of activity is meant to take advantage of burgeoning cooperation between Israel and the new Hamas-less Palestinian Authority. This activity will also, according to Israeli diplomatic officials, ride a wave of momentum created by US President George W. Bush's speech on Monday night.
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In addition to meeting with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, as expected, Solana will also meet with new President Shimon Peres. In the past, Beit Hanassi has not been a fixture on Solana's agenda, and the change is perhaps an indication of the role Peres will play in diplomatic developments.
On the Palestinian side, Solana will meet with PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, Prime Minister Salaam Fayad and negotiator Saeb Erekat.
Solana issued a statement Tuesday saying he welcomed Monday's speech by Bush demonstrating "the renewed commitment of the United States to a negotiated settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict on the basis of a two-state solution as the only way forward."
He also came out in favor of the regional meeting proposed by Bush, saying "it will give substantial support to the parties in their negotiations towards a permanent settlement. The Quartet will have a major part to play in such a gathering."
Blair is scheduled to arrive on Monday for a trip that will last no more than two days. The former British prime minister is in the process of putting together a staff and finding an office, and in the meantime the arrangements for the trip are being made by the British Embassy in Tel Aviv, as if he were still the UK's prime minister.
Blair has taken on some logistical staff from 10 Downing Street, and is also expected to have on his team representatives from each of the Quartet members - the US, EU, Russia and the UN.
While Blair's mandate is expected to be clarified at the upcoming Quartet meeting in Lisbon, diplomatic officials said the US view of his mandate was primarily to help build responsible and accountable Palestinian governing institutions.
Also on Tuesday, Israeli diplomatic officials confirmed that Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul-Gheit and Jordanian Foreign Minister Abdelelah al-Khatib are scheduled to arrive next week for long postponed discussions on the Arab Peace Initiative. Although both men have been here in the past, Israel is saying that their visit next week is especially significant as they will come as representatives of the Arab League.
Israeli diplomatic officials played down comments made on Tuesday by Italian Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema who, a day after Bush came out harshly against any dealings with Hamas, warned against isolating the organization, saying that this could push it into the arms of al-Qaida.
The officials said that D'Alema's comments didn't reflect the position of the EU or, for that matter, that of the Italian government. The officials said that when Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi was here last week, his comments to Olmert reflected the opposite view.