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The 150 members of the European Parliament who arrived in Israel yesterday on a Mideast mission ("A Moment for Peace") were in for an unpleasant surprise. The MEPs began their four-day tour on Saturday with a quick visit to Amman, where they met with King Abdullah, Queen Rania and the speaker of Jordan's senate, Ziad Rifai. Soon after their buses crossed the Allenby Bridge and began the ascent to Jerusalem, the tour guide informed the European dignitaries that their meeting scheduled later that day with Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia (Abu Ala) had been canceled at the last moment "because of the start of Ramadan."

Some of the shocked MEPs were not prepared to accept this explanation. The organizer of the mission and chairman of the Med-Bridge strategic center, Francois Zimeray, said that their meeting with Qureia was canceled because the prime minister was convening a meeting of his government at the time.

Not all of the MEPs accepted this explanation either. Some of them called Palestinian contacts who informed them that PA Chairman Yasser Arafat was the one who forced the meeting's cancellation. Other accounts described the no-show as a response to Israel's refusal to allow several members of the Palestinian Legislative Council to enter the territories on Saturday.

There were also other explanations afloat. There was someone who claimed that the Palestinians had refused to allow the members of the European Parliament to enter the PA accompanied by an Israeli security attachment as planned.

Another rumor attributed the change in plans to a dispute over the venue for the meeting. When the mission was originally planned, Qureia served as the speaker of the PLC, so the meeting was set for parliament building in Abu Dis. But after becoming prime minister, he asked to transfer the meeting to Ramallah. However, the organizers refused. The delegation wanted to boycott Arafat - among other reasons, to prevent Prime Minister Ariel Sharon from canceling his meeting with them, planned to take place today.

Qureia's bureau told Haaretz yesterday that the meeting was canceled due to "scheduling problems" as well as the dispute over holding the gathering in Ramallah. PA legislator Salah Ta'amari will meet in Bethlehem today with European representatives to try to arrive at a compromise that would allow the meeting with Qureia to take place.

The visit to Israel by such a large European parliamentary delegation, which includes representatives from 25 veteran and new EU member states, as well as lawmakers from non-members Switzerland and Norway, is considered an unprecedented event. Zimeray, a French socialist and MEP, said the goal of the mission is "to shatter prejudices and to portray to European decision makers the complex reality of the Middle East."

Abdullah seeks more EU input in region

King Abdullah of Jordan used his meeting with the European parliamentarians to urge greater European involvement in the region, telling them that he hoped their visit was a harbinger of similar initiatives in the future.

After describing the difficult situation that Jordan faces on both its borders - the American occupation of Iraq to the east and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to the west - Abdullah urged his European guests to increase their involvement on both fronts: to work to accelerate the democratization of Iraq and a transfer of power from the Americans to the Iraqis, and to work to push the Israel-Palestinian peace process forward.

Abdullah told them that there is no alternative to the U.S.-backed road map peace plan, and urged them to support Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia's new government. The government of Qureia's predecessor, Mahmoud Abbas, fell precisely because it did not receive enough support, from either the Israelis or the Palestinians, he said.

Finally, he urged them help Israelis and Palestinians achieve the same sort of reconciliation that European countries reached after World War II.

"We don't want peace tomorrow. We want it today," the king declared.