Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and King Abdullah II of Jordan hosted the summit. At its conclusion both leaders announced they would return their ambassadors to Israel that they withdrew in September 2000. Cairo and Amman are the only governments in the Mideast that have signed peace accords with the Israeli regime.
The agreement is the latest step in the effort by the PA leadership to end the armed struggle that has been the centerpiece of the more than four-year Al Aqsa intifada (uprising) that began in the fall of 2000. The exhaustion of this struggle, in face of the Israeli governments assaults, encirclement, and devastating campaign of assassinations of leaders of armed resistance, has been reflected in the willingness to accept the PA-brokered truce shown by Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigadethe largest Palestinian groups that participated in the armed struggle.
Abbas, in an interview published in the New York Times February 14, said while the armed intifada was not a mistake, the cease-fire agreement signaled that it is over. Any war will have an end. And what is the end? To sit around the table and talk, Abbas told the Times. Referring to the Palestinian armed groups he added, they realize that this is the time to come to the table and talk and negotiate.
Following the summit, U.S. president George Bush praised Abbass commitment to fighting terror, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced that Army Lt. Gen. William Ward would act as security commander for the region. Wards responsibilities will include helping the Palestinians train and equip their security forces, CNN reported. The several different organizations that make up the Palestinian security forces were established in the 1990s with the cooperation of the Israeli secret police and the CIA. This step now places the Pentagon, not the CIA, in the central role in constructing a PA police apparatus that Washington hopes will work with the U.S. and Israeli governments to help contain Palestinian resistance.
Late last year Abbas made clear that Fatah, the leading group in the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), intended to put a formal end to the armed struggle. In a December 14 interview with Asharq al-Awsat (The Middle East), Abbas said, The use of weapons in the current intifada is damaging and must cease. On January 21, two weeks after he was elected PA president, Abbas deployed thousands of Palestinian police officers in towns across the northern border of Gaza to prevent armed attacks on Israeli towns by Palestinian forces.
This is another step in the peace process between Tel Aviv and the PLO that started with the 1993 Israeli-Palestinian Oslo accord. It is a product both of the inability of the Israeli regime to crush Palestinian resistance, and the increasingly bourgeois course of the Palestinian Authority leadership. The top leaders of the PLO have more and more turned their eyes away from the ranks of the fighting Palestinian people and relied first on the Arab regimes in the region and then on accommodation with Washington in the struggle for a Palestinian homeland.
Tel Aviv makes small concessions
Tel Aviv is aiming to use the negotiations to secure the long-term viability of the state of Israel and its largest settlements on the West Bank.
The main concession that the Israeli government is offering is the withdrawal of its 7,500 settlers and the thousands of Israeli troops that defend them from Gaza. Sharon, who has faced sharp protests against this from the right wing, scored a victory February 10 when a leader in the largest Gaza settlement said half of families there had signed a declaration agreeing to relocate to Israel, according to the Associated Press.
The Jerusalem Post reported that Tel Aviv would pull out of the West Bank city of Jericho in mid-February, turning over security duties to Palestinian forces. At a later date would follow Bethlehem, Falkilya, Ramallah, and Tulkarm.
On February 13 the Israeli cabinet approved a list of 500 Palestinian prisoners to be released in the week ahead. All have already completed at least two-thirds of their sentences, and were not violent offenders, said Israeli officials. Tel Aviv has agreed to release 900 of the 8,000 Palestinian prisoners it holds over the next three months and repatriate about 60 Palestinians it has expelled from the West Bank. Tel Aviv also opened the Erez crossing point from Gaza into Israel February 10. The Israeli regime had closed the gates over the course of the intifada, blocking the passage of more than 100,000 Palestinian workers who had traveled though it for work in Israel daily.
A key test of the reliability of Abbas in the eyes of the Israeli rulers is whether he can enforce the cease-fire on armed groups.
Two days after the Sharm el-Sheik summit, Hamas and other groups fired dozens of mortars and rockets at the Gush Katif Israeli settlements, Haaretz reported. The Israeli daily said there were no casualties. The firing was self-defense against aggression, Hamas said in a statement, referring to the killing of two Palestinians by Israeli forces in the days before.
In response, Abbas fired three top security officials and other officers for failing to prevent the attack. Abbas also convened an emergency meeting of the Fatah central committee, which announced a general alert and state of emergency among the Palestinian security services and the Fatah movement to deal with the severe security violations, the attempts to undermine the Palestinian Authoritys deterrent capabilities, and the attempts to undermine its international commitments, reported Haaretz.
Although Tel Aviv called off a meeting with Palestinian officials in the wake of the attack, it took no military action. Israeli defense minister Shaul Mofaz told the media this had been a test for Abbas. If the Palestinians wont fight terror, we will have to do it. But we still think there is a historic window of opportunity that we must not let slip, he said.
At the time of the Sharm el-Sheik summit, representatives of Hamas and other armed groups said they were not bound by the agreement made by Abbas. Instead they announced that they had initiated calm, but would not stand handcuffed in the face of Israeli aggression.
The Palestinian president held talks February 12 with Hamas officials to inform them there is only one Palestinian Authority and one leadership, PA cabinet secretary Hassan Abu Libdeh told the Associated Press.
The Christian Science Monitor reported February 14 that Hamas will now also refrain from immediate retaliation for Israeli army actions. It quoted a Hamas official as saying, We pledge not to take the initiative in carrying out resistance operations. We will now be watching the Israeli behavior on the ground.
Tel Aviv, which only recently announced a suspension of its targeted assassinations of Hamas leaders, was not satisfied. Hamas needs the quiet to arm itself to the teeth, Israeli foreign ministry spokesperson Gideon Meir told the Monitor. The only way out of this situation is for (Abbas) to dismantle Hamas and all the infrastructure of terror.
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