PM: Egypt Summit Could Pave Way for New Beginning Between Israel, PA

Egypt to host Israeli, PA, Jordanian leaders Monday in summit it says aims to boost Abbas and isolate Hamas.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Thursday a planned summit in Egypt involving Israeli, Palestinian, and Jordanian leaders could lead to a new beginning in bilateral relations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

Speaking at a United Israel Appeal fundraising event in Haifa late Thursday, Olmert said the purpose of the summit was to "jointly work to create a platform that may lead into a new beginning between us and the Palestinians."

He said U.S. President George W. Bush hopes to fulfill his goal of creating a Palestinian state before he leaves office in early 2009.

Egypt said Thursday the summit would aim to boost Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas as the U.S. ally moved to isolate the Hamas militant group after its takeover of Gaza.

A day after Monday's summit in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheik, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is to hold talks with Saudi King Abdullah, aiming to unify a bloc of Arab nations in support of Abbas and against Hamas.

Beyond looking to keep the peace process going after the stunning events in Gaza, Egypt and other Arab countries fear the impact of radicals' control, which could give a boost to Islamic opposition groups on their own soil.

Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt have already announced that the West Bank-based cabinet set up by Abbas is the sole legitimate Palestinian government. After Hamas' Gaza takeover, Egypt withdrew its mediators from Gaza, provided refuge to fleeing Fatah security personnel and moved its embassy from Gaza to the West Bank.

Meanwhile Thursday, a top official from Egypt's ruling National Democratic party said Egypt will do its best to curb attempts to establish an Islamic state in Gaza.

"Its not in Egypt's interests [to permit] the presence of a religious state on its borders, and it will do its best to end such a presence," Ali Eldin Helal, head of the media secretariat in the NDP said Thursday.

Mubarak has invited Olmert, Abbas and Jordan's King Abdullah II to attend a summit in Egypt early next week.

The regional summit is scheduled to take place at the Sinai resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, and aims to give a push to the Palestinians' relations with Israel, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said Thursday.

David Baker, a senior official in the Prime Minister's Office, confirmed Thursday that there will be a summit in Sharm el-Sheikh on Monday, saying the purpose of the summit will be to strengthen moderates and to further the Israeli-Palestinian agenda.

The summit follows a violent Hamas takeover in the Gaza Strip last week and the establishment of an emergency government in Ramallah over the weekend.

Senior Abbas aide Yasser Abed Rabbo said Thursday that the Palestinians would demand concrete results from the gathering, and warned that if it ended without results, it would do more harm than good.

Saeb Erekat, another senior Abbas adviser, said Thursday that the PA chairman would call for a resumption of peace talks with Israel at the summit, arguing that only progress toward Palestinian statehood can serve as a true buffer against Hamas.

"The most important thing to realize is that time is of the essence," Erekat said. "We need to deliver the end of occupation, a Palestinian state. If we don't have hope, Hamas will export despair to the people."

As immediate steps, Erekat said, Abbas will ask Israel to remove West Bank checkpoints that disrupt daily life and trade, and to transfer hundreds of millions of dollars in Palestinian tax funds Israel froze after Hamas came to power last year.

Olmert reached an understanding with United States President George W. Bush during his visit to Washington on Tuesday that it is necessary to support Abbas, a senior political source in Jerusalem said Wednesday.

Meanwhile, for the first time since the new Palestinian government was established, senior level contacts between Israel and the Palestinian Authority were initiated on Wednesday.

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni spoke Wednesday on the telephone with Salam Fayyad, the PA prime minister, and discussed the implications of the Hamas takeover in the Gaza Strip.

In his first address to the Palestinian people since the Hamas takeover of Gaza, Abbas went on the offensive Wednesday and angrily lashed out at the Islamic militants, accusing them of trying to build an empire of darkness in the Strip and pledging he would not talk to murderous terrorists.