Wed, Feb 21, 2007 - Page 4 News List

Summit ends on vague promise


A Middle East peace summit designed to open a new chapter for Israelis and Palestinians fed up with violence concluded with no new agreements and a pledge to keep talking.

The US, which had pushed for the session, said it was an accomplishment merely to hold such a get together for the first time in six years. After two hours of talks with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Monday stood alone in a bare-bones hotel function room to call the session "useful and productive."

The prospect of any immediate success here essentially was hijacked by Abbas' announcement last week that he will govern hand-in-hand with Hamas.

Speaking to reporters, Rice said the meeting was particularly valuable, however, in light of the lingering uncertainties over Abbas' pact with Hamas.

"I think the real value here is that they sat down to talk with each other pretty early in this process," Rice said.

"I could have made the decision that, well, I'll just wait until this all sorts out," Rice said, but she said that could have created new obstacles.

"We thought it would be best to go ahead," she said.

Neither Rice nor other US officials would describe the content of the session, although Israeli and Palestinian officials offered some details.

Olmert said that he and Abbas agreed to maintain an open channel of communication, focused on improving the lives of Palestinians and stopping terrorism.

"What we have heard today has nothing to do with a partnership," said Mohammed Dahlan, an Abbas confidant.

"Abu Mazen [Abbas] is determined to go ahead with this national unity government. There is no backing down," Dahlan said.

Abbas has said that the deal brokered by Saudi Arabia is the best one he could get from Hamas, and that he would move ahead with forming a coalition. The power-sharing deal is seen as crucial to halting internal Palestinian fighting that has killed more than 130 since May.

Abbas and Olmert also discussed possibly extending a three-month-old ceasefire covering the Gaza Strip to include the West Bank, Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said.

However, Hamas spokesman Ismail Radwan called Monday's summit a failure.

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