Israel urges Morocco-PA meeting

Officials pushing moderate Arab states to visit to boost Abbas's legitimacy.

king muhammed VI 298 (photo credit: Moroccan government website)
king muhammed VI 298
(photo credit: Moroccan government website)
Israel has relayed messages to Morocco's King Muhammad VI in recent weeks urging him to travel to Ramallah and meet Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas in order to increase Abbas's legitimacy, The Jerusalem Post has learned. Foreign Ministry director-general Aharon Abramovitch visited Morocco in May, and according to government officials there is an open and direct channel of communication between the two countries, even though there are no formal diplomatic ties. Diplomatic officials said that while both Israel and the US were trying to support Abbas and the emergency PA government, what was even more important for Abbas now was legitimacy in the Arab world. High-profile visits from Arab leaders could grant this legitimacy, but Israeli officials admitted that the chances of this were slim because of the concern in these countries of the reaction of Islamic radicals and Hamas supporters in their own countries. Government officials expressed disappointment that following the Hamas takeover of Gaza, Morocco and other "moderate" Arab regimes did not come out with a full embrace of Abbas but rather called for the reconstitution of a Hamas-Fatah unity government. Not only were Arab world leaders unlikely to visit Ramallah, but government officials said Monday that the assessment in Jerusalem was that the Egyptian and Jordanian foreign ministers, who in May announced their intention to come to Israel as representatives of the Arab League and discuss the Arab Peace Initiative, were unlikely to come until the situation in the Palestinian Authority cleared up. "The Arab League is hesitant to send anybody here when it is not clear who speaks for the Palestinians," one government official said. Foreign Ministry officials, however, said that Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni spoke last week to both Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit and Jordanian Foreign Minister Abdelelah al-Khatib and received assurances that they would indeed come to discuss the initiative, although no date was given. The two told Livni in May that they would come within a "few weeks" for talks. That visit was delayed, according to Israeli officials, because Jordan and Egypt wanted to wait and see whether Prime Minister Ehud Olmert would ride out the storm caused by the Winograd Committee's harsh interim report. Once it became apparent that Olmert would survive politically, the visit was delayed again because of Kassam attacks on Sderot, and Egyptian and Jordanian concerns - according to Israeli officials - that the IDF might go into Gaza either during, or shortly before or after, the visit, something that would embarrass the Arab League. And now, the official said, the visit has been postponed because of the developments and uncertainty inside the PA. Livni, meanwhile, is scheduled to travel to Paris on Tuesday for a two-day visit and the first meeting of Israel's senior leadership with new French President Nicolas Sarkozy and new Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, both of whom diplomatic officials said could be fairly described as friends of Israel. Jordan's King Abdullah is also scheduled to be in Paris on Wednesday, but Livni and Abdullah are not scheduled to meet. One of the topics on Livni's agenda will be a meeting the French hope to hold in Paris in the middle of July bringing together delegates from across Lebanon's political and religious divide - including Hizbullah - to try to quell the violence and political strife inside Lebanon. Livni is expected to repeat Israel's position that Hizbullah is not a force working for the stability of Lebanon, but rather the opposite. Nevertheless, she is not expected to make a "major diplomatic issue" out of this or create something that could stand in the way of what Jerusalem views as an opportunity to significantly upgrade Franco-Israeli ties. Other issues on the agenda will be the situation in Gaza, stopping the arms flow from Syria to Lebanon, how to strengthen Abbas and Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora, and the fate of the abducted IDF soldiers. In addition to meeting Sarkozy and Kouchner, Livni will also meet the French Jewish leadership and give a number of interviews to the press. Meanwhile, Olmert appeared before the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Monday and explained his rationale for cooperating with the emergency PA government headed by Salaam Fayad. He said, however, that if Hamas and Fatah were to join together in another unity government, this cooperation would end.