WASHINGTON - The implementation of the road map peace plan is imperative, and terminating terrorist activity in the Gaza Strip is an inseparable part of the plan's first stage. That, according to sources close to the prime minister, will be the theme of Ehud Olmert's address Tuesday at the Annapolis international peace summit.
Olmert, the sources told Haaretz, will also say that the time has come to move forward with peace talks and reach an agreement. According to Syrian Information Minister Muhsen Bilal's statement Sunday, the summit in Annapolis will see a Syrian delegation attending as well, headed by Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad.
Olmert will call on the Arab nations to establish diplomatic relations with Israel as Jordan and Egypt have. He will also call on them to actively advance negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.
Commenting on Syria's decision to send a delegation to the summit, sources close to the prime minister told Haaretz that the decision "is demonstrative of which camp the Syrians want to belong to: moderates, as opposed to radicals."
The same sources said that even though the delegation will not be headed by a foreign minister as other Arab states, "it is nonetheless an envoy who will come especially from Damascus and not an ambassador already stationed in the United States." The sources said that despite the Syrian contingent, "the conference is designed to discuss the Palestinian issue and that has to be the focus of attention."
Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who arrived in Washington D.C. on Sunday, have spent the day being briefed by their advisers and preparing for the meeting. Defense Minister Ehud Barak is scheduled to join them on Tuesday, after stopping in New York.
Olmert, Livni and Barak were slated to meet U.S. President George W. Bush on Monday, in preparation for the summit. Bush was scheduled to meet separately with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas.
Meanwhile, the Israeli and Palestinian negotiation teams were busy formulating a joint declaration which they plan to present at the summit. An Israeli delegate told Haaretz that the completion of the joint declaration "depends on the Palestinians' will."
Arab states insist normalization with Israel not on summit agendaArab League Secretary General Amr Moussa said before leaving for Annapolis that the league's decision to send its foreign ministers to the conference does not mean normalizing relations with Israel.
"We will say that there can be no normalization except in the framework of the Arab peace initiative and in the framework of total peace," he said. Advertisement
Opponents of the conference claim it constitutes a normalization of relations with Israel without the latter giving anything in return. Hamas' political head, Khaled Meshal, sent a letter in recent days to Arab heads of state and the Arab League calling on them to "boycott" the summit. The London-based Arabic daily paper Al-Hayat reported on Sunday that Meshal's letter said it would be "a free concession with nothing in return."
Sixteen Arab states will attend the conference, most of them members of the monitoring committee for the Arab peace initiative. There will also be representatives from many other Muslim countries that have no relations with Israel. However, the conference is expected to encourage only direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians, not the establishment or renewal of relations with Arab countries.
Andre Azoulay, senior adviser to King Mohamed VI of Morocco, told Haaretz yesterday by phone that the summit's purpose in his view is to signal to all the people in the region that it is possible to revive peace efforts. He described himself as "a veteran warrior for peace" and said that the Annapolis summit could end a period of mistrust and gloom.
But Azoulay added that it would be a mistake by Israel to expect steps toward normalization immediately after the conference. "Sometimes Israelis think that merely having Israeli senior officials seated beside Arab senior officials is an Israeli accomplishment. It is blindness to think that Israel will get what it wants that way," he said.
On the non-Arab Muslim countries that will attend Annapolis, Azoulay said: "All of the Muslim countries follow what happens in Palestine, and it is part of their agenda. It is realistic and important that they be present there, also to prevent the extremists from dictating their line."
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