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Palestinians, Israelis locked in disagreement.

By Ghassan Joha, Star Staff Writer Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmad Abul Gheit told The Star this week that his country would not reinstate its mediation in the peace process between the Palestinians and Israelis until the latter show readiness to cooperate with the concerned parties.Abul Gheit looked poised following a heated debate in a session at this year's World Economic Forum (WEF) at the Dead Sea, and tackled the peace process between the Palestinians and Israelis. Abul Gheit said his country's focus for the time being is on the security procedures that are likely to take place on the borders between Gaza Strip and Egypt, once the Israeli occupation army withdraws from the enclave later this year. "The Israelis must further elaborate on how we would face things and development, and how we will perceive the future," said the Egyptian minister, who denied that Egypt's mediation in the peace process has receded lately because of external pressure, and said, "It has nothing to do either with the Egyptian internal affairs."Abul Gheit's remarks echoed earlier debate at the session that was held on the WEF's third and final day, when Palestinian and Israeli officials failed to bridge their differences regarding Israel's Gaza disengagement plan that is expected to take place in August. Besides Abul Gheit, the session also featured the participation of Palestinian National Authority's (PNA) Minister of Information Nabil Shaath and Minister of Civil Affairs Mohammad Dahlan, along with the Israel's Deputy-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Minister of Foreign Affairs Silvan Shalom. The session titled "Next Steps in the Revival of Peace Process" aimed at demonstrating views from the members of the Quartet, represented by Marc Otte, European Union's special envoy to the Middle East, and Russian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Alexander Saltanov. The American officials preferred to alienate themselves since they feared discomfiture at the session. Dahlan made it clear at the session that the Palestinians are still waiting for the Israeli move to fulfill the commitments that both parties have agreed upon during the Sharm El Sheikh summit in February. "We have seen each other and talked a lot in recent weeks for nothing," he said. "The Palestinians are being treated as prisoners on their own land, at a time when Israeli officials, who are the jailers, refuse to treat us humanitarianly," said Dahlan, who disputed early remarks made by Olmert claiming that Israel is "a genuine partner of peace". Dahlan went on hoping "to find a common language between the prisoners [Palestinian people] and those in charge of the prison [Israel]".A video conducted by Maurice Levy, chairman of the Publicis Group in France, was presented at the session, showing a group of Palestinian and Israeli children try to get together in hope of reaching a common dialogue. Levy, who is member of the WEF's foundation board, called the campaign "a public service message", aimed at "inviting the young generations to overcome hatred among their nations, and work for peace".Though the Palestinian and Israeli officials at the session praised the video, it failed to change their mindset. Shaath said the video emphasizes the fact that politicians should respond to people's desires and needs."We reassure you there is a Palestinian partner once there is a real Israeli partner for peace," Shaath said, calling on the Israeli government to allow the Palestinian security forces to rearm as it still refuses to allow in the security equipment and vehicles that Russian President Vladimir Putin has granted the PNA during his visit to Palestine late April. This equipment, said Shaath, are nothing compared to Israel's military, and it aims at reinstalling security at the PNA-ruled territories.In a speech at the WEF, Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmad Qurei declared his government's readiness to handle and control Gaza Strip following the projected Israeli withdrawal later this year. He also reiterated his people's commitment to peace and reform. "Our people have chosen the path of peace as a strategic objective. Though our biggest challenge to realize this is Israel's defiance to meet its obligations. The Palestinians are unable to run their ordinary affairs," said Qurei, who accused Israel of being reluctant to push the peace process forward. He called on the international community to invest in the Palestinian territories, and pledged his government's effort "to protect foreign investments under the rule of law."Israel's Gaza plan was also in focus either through bilateral meetings on the WEF's sidelines or within closed sessions. The US Deputy Secretary of State, Robert Zoellick refused to talk about the plan when he met with Palestinian officials, but rather reiterated his country's support to the PNA's reforms. Shaath, who met Zoellick at the Dead Sea along with Qurei, seemed disappointed. "We welcome any support from the Americans, though our main issue is the US role in the peace process. This role remains insufficient so far," Shaath told The Star. "We believe the US is still paralyzed towards the political process, waiting for the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza. Israel is delaying the withdrawal for unrealistic reasons and we do not know really when that period would end and when we would have a real role by the US to kick start the peace process," he said.Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres also participated in the WEF, and told reporters that he feels the "winds of peace are blowing on the region." Both Shaath and Qurei received Peres' remarks with much sarcasm. "Sure, the winds of peace are blowing and now are stopped by the separation walls and growing settlements that Israel is building up," Shaath said.In his speech at the WEF, Zoellick highlighted the US aid to the Palestinians, retaining the critical need to offer economic hope to the Palestinian people. He reminded of the $200 million aid the US congress has approved recently for the PNA's rehabilitation. He said US President George Bush is seeking an additional $150 million in assistance for the Palestinians next year, to foster their economic, social, judicial and security requirements. Zoellick said the Palestinians already exercise "a free trade regime" with the US through the US-Israel free trade agreement. "We are working with others to integrate this assistance with the disengagement plan and peace process. There is no clearer example of the interconnection among security, economics, and democratic development," he said.In conclusion, Klaus Schwab, WEF's founder and chairman, appreciated, what he called, "the genuine will" by the Palestinian and Israeli officials to engage in dialogue about a difficult, but critically important peace. He reiterated his hope that someday soon the forum would have a summit in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, possibly in 2010. Palestinians, Israelis locked in disagreement

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Publication:The Star (Amman, Jordan)
Date:May 29, 2005
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