Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom met Wednesday with Palestinian Authority
Chairman Mahmoud Abbas
in a formal meeting in the Tunisian
capital marking a renewal of high-level talks between the two sides after long months of cancelled summits and postponed appointments.
Both Shalom and Abbas later addressed the UN assembly each speaking about their grievances towards the peace process and the need to fight terror on the internet.
The meeting between the leaders took place at the UN World Summit on the Information Society where thousands of participants from all over the world met to discuss how to close the gap in information technology access between the developed and the developing world.
Shalom and Abbas met twice Wednesday, once by chance and once as planned. After the first meeting, Shalom told The Jerusalem Post
that the meetings were "very good."
Israeli officials said that not only was the meeting significant in and of itself, but so was the setting in a meeting hall with an Israeli flag outside the door on Arab soil in a country which once hosted the PLO and does not have diplomatic relations with Israel
The two leaders discussed the rehabilitation of the Gaza Strip
, and talked about Hamas
"I told him that the model of Gaza must succeed and that it will bring calm and I hope it will help the Palestinians," Shalom told the Post
. His words came one day after Israel signed an agreement with the Palestinians over the Rafah border crossing
. "I hope it will help the Palestinians."
Shalom quoted Abbas as saying that he was "happy that after five years we finally have signed an agreement on something, that we need to go forward with the peace process and that we cannot stop it every time there is an attack."
However, the foreign minister said he told Abbas that "we cannot have a situation where in the morning there are peace talks and in the afternoon there is a terror attack."
Shalom warned Abbas "that Hamas was trying to destabilize" his administration.
According to Shalom, Abbas told him that improving relations with the Palestinians would improve the relations between Israel and the Arab and Muslim world. The foreign minister has made it his goal since taking office three years ago to promote relations with Arab and Muslim countries.
The meeting was "very positive," said Shalom. "At the end he sent his regards to [Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon."
Shalom was not the only one to have positive talks with Arab officials. Communications Minister Dalia Itzik
met with her Iraqi counterpart Dr. Jowan Massoum. The two discussed the situation in Iraq
and exchanged invitations to each other's country.
"My assistants checked if she would agree and she said it was OK," Itzik told the Post
. Itzik's parents were born in Iraq. "She asked where in Iraq I'm from and I said, 'Baghdad.' We talked about the situation in Iraq and she said it's stabilizing. I invited her to Israel and she invited me to Iraq."
Itzik was especially moved when Massoum gave her a personal cellular phone number. "I told her I am going to call my mother and tell her that maybe her dream will come true and we'll take her to Baghdad to see her home," said Itzik.
Shalom also met with UN Secretary General Kofi Annan
on Tuesday and again at a lunch he hosted on Wednesday where he thanked the UN leader for supporting the idea of a Holocaust Day and for condemning the statement by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad
that "Israel should be wiped off the map." "
The foreign minister also met with the new President of Mauritania, Colonel Ely Ould Mohamed Val, who recently overthrew the last president in a bloodless coup. Shalom said that Val told him that Mauritania was committed to its full diplomatic relations with Israel and plans to hold democratic elections soon. "He said that Mauritanians
keep their word," Shalom noted.
Shalom received a warm welcome from Tunisian President Zine al-Abidin Ben Ali. "He came to me and said hello and hugged me and shook my hand," Shalom told the Post
, smiling. "He said he was so happy I came to Tunisia
." Shalom is particularly excited about his visit to Tunisia because it is his birthplace.
Shalom and Abbas both took the stage at the assembly Wednesday evening where the representatives of state took turns speaking. Abbas told the participants that Internet terror must be fought and looked forward to improving relations with Israel. He also condemned Israel's security barrier saying that, "Israel has made a siege on the Palestinian people with an apartheid fence."
Shalom spoke after him, calling on the Arab and Muslim world to reach out to cooperate with Israel saying that Israel has a lot to offer in the way of technology. He also told Abbas that he must make a decision whether he wants to "join the enlightened community and fight terror."
Arab summit participants crowded around large TV screens and listened attentively as he spoke. A Tunisian engineer told the Post
afterwards that Shalom made a political statement and an offer of peace. "It's a message of peace and a message of cooperation," said the man in a suit with graying hair who asked not to be named. "But I think the words should be followed by actions on the ground. We see a different reality on TV every night."