PETRA, Jordan - The gathering of Nobel Prize laureates in Petra was overshadowed by the violent confrontation between Hamas and Fatah in the Gaza Strip. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas canceled his scheduled arrival, and King Abdullah of Jordan moved his meeting with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to his palace in Aqaba. The King's plan to hold a tripartite meeting to signal the resumption of diplomacy failed.
Olmert hopped over to the conference in Petra for half an hour, and answered questions posed by the author and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel.
Wiesel was interested to hear about the Arab Peace Initiative, and the prime minister responded: "I invite the 22 leaders of Arab [League] states willing to make peace with Israel to meet with me anywhere. To come sit with us, and if it is difficult for them to come to us, I am willing to go anywhere in the world. We say 'yes' to any serious effort to sit and talk without preconditions."
Wiesel asked, "What have you learned from the war in Lebanon?" Olmert answered: "That if you are faced with a terrorist organization that is accumulating sophisticated weapons and openly declares that it intends to use them against you, take it seriously."
"What makes you lose sleep at night? What worries you?," Wiesel asked the prime minister.
"I worry mostly about the security of our children, and the pain of the Palestinian children. When I decide not to use force against the Qassam attacks on Sderot and other places, that is because I am not sure that our response will not cause the death of a 12-year-old Palestinian girl who did nothing."
The forum then moved over to Shimon Peres, the powerhouse of these types of gatherings. Peres arrived on a helicopter sent for him by the King, and the reporters who accompanied him from Israel were mostly interested to know about his career plans.
He said he will announce in a few days that he will run for the presidency. "There is no point in a long campaign, it would be a waste of time," Peres said. "Everyone knows who everyone is and I have a lot of work to do."
During lunch, Peres confronted the former Palestinian minister, Yasser Abed Rabbo, one of the heads of the Geneva Initiative. Abed Rabbo opened his speech by mentioning that it was the day commemorating the Nakba, or national catastrophe, a reference to the establishment of Israel and "the 40th anniversary of the occupation." He listed the sins of Israeli intransigence and said that all the talk about a "two-state solution" was vague and did not delineate borders.
"We have a historic opportunity," Abed Rabbo said, "but only a small opportunity to achieve this - and that is the Arab Peace Initiative. The Rabin formula should be adopted, to fight terrorism as if there is no peace process and to proceed with the peace process as if there is no terrorism."
Peres responded: "We did not occupy you. We were attacked [in 1967] and we did not have the slightest intention to enter the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. [Then prime minister Levi] Eshkol sent a message to King Hussein, 'stay out and we won't harm you,' and we were never too keen about Gaza. Second, you say that the Arab world is in favor of peace, and this is a message that I support fully. But the Arab world cannot control Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas, who do not want peace, and this is a problem of the Arab world and not just our problem.
"We left the Gaza Strip entirely, we evacuated settlements ... Explain to me why you are shooting at us," Peres said. "We are willing to evacuate territory also in the West Bank. How can you guarantee that you will not also shoot at us from there?"
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