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Analysis / A surprise invite (HA´ARETZ NEWS) By Aluf Benn 02/03/05)Source: http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/535437.html HA'ARETZ} NEWS SERVICE HA'ARETZ} NEWS SERVICE Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
According to the Israeli version of things, the invitation to the summit meeting in Sharm el-Sheikh on Tuesday caught Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his aides by surprise.

Sources in the Prime Minister´s Office say that Sharon spoke to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on the phone last week and the two arranged for Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman to pop over to Jerusalem for a visit and a discussion of the latest political developments.

Suleiman showed up at the PMO yesterday and began the discussion by saying that in light of the significant progress in the area of security and the pending new Israel-Palestinian Authority security arrangement, Mubarak wanted to host a meeting between Sharon and PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas in Sharm el-Sheikh rather than Jerusalem, and with Jordan´s King Abdullah in attendance too.

Sharon gave his immediate nod, and the meeting with Suleiman lasted a mere 40 minutes.

Israeli sources say the summit meeting will focus on security issues, the international support for Abbas that will require him to continue to wage war on terror, and Egypt´s role in dealing with arms smuggling into the Gaza Strip. In return, Sharon will give Abbas prisoners and cities and make additional concessions, as well as an offer to coordinate the pullout from the Strip.

Israel is likely to be pressed for a commitment to the road map peace plan, as well as to additional political measures.

From Sharon´s point of view, the official invitation to Egypt - for the first time in his four years in power - marks the end of the international isolation. If the leaders of the Arab world are hosting Sharon, he will be a welcome guest in every capital.

But Sharon is less concerned today with his global image, and is, as per usual, busying himself with internal survival. The photo-op with Mubarak, Abbas and Abdullah will illustrate to the people at home that Sharon is bringing peace. His popularity in the polls will surge, and the "rebels" will lose ground. And more importantly, Shas could be convinced that unilateral disengagement has become a thing of the past, and is being replaced by a new, bilateral - maybe even multilateral - political arrangement.

Under such circumstances, Shas may even join the coalition, thereby saving the budget and the prime minister´s pullout plan.

The Egyptians have taken it upon themselves to sway all the problematic elements - both the Palestinian factions and the undecided Israelis.

Shas chairman MK Eli Yishai will be meeting with Suleiman in Cairo today. It´s safe to assume that the host will turn on the charm so as to hint to Yishai to drop the allowances issue and help out Sharon, just as he is convincing the Hamas leaders that it would be in their best interests to help Abbas - an unfair comparison for Shas, but it appears that the Egyptians disregard such subtleties.

Mubarak, like Sharon, has troubles at home too. Cairo is looking anxiously at the elections in Afghanistan and Iraq, and fears that it may be next in line.

U.S. President George Bush wants democracy in Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, but right now, he needs peace and quiet in Israel. The Sharm summit is supposed to herald the renewal of the peace process, and to ensure that when he arrives in Washington in some 10 days time, Suleiman will be welcomed with cheers and pats on the back for his mediation efforts. (© Copyright 2005 Haaretz. 02/03/05)


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