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London Conference to Focus on Palestinian Reforms, Assistance


Palestinian leaders are in London for Tuesday's one-day meeting with senior officials from some 30 countries. The aim of the conference is to outline and support Palestinian reforms, but, Palestinians would also like to see some concrete political efforts to revive the peace process with Israel.

When British Prime Minister Tony Blair first spoke of hosting a conference on the Israeli-Palestinian issue last December, Palestinian leaders hoped it would focus on political issues and the peace process.

But there was little support for that from Israel, which is not attending, and it soon became clear the London conference would focus on Palestinian political, financial and security reforms. That, said Mr. Blair, would encourage the international community to contribute money as well as political support and would put the Palestinians in a better position for reviving actual peace talks with Israel.

And so, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and some of his top officials meet with Mr. Blair and foreign ministers and senior officials from some 30 countries. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is attending as are United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan and European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat says the agenda is set.

"The London conference is there to help us, to facilitate for us and to help us in reforms and in rebuilding and reconstructing our security forces, for the reform of elections and we appreciate this very much," he said.

Although Palestinian officials may appreciate the help, lawmaker Hanan Ashrawi told VOA that the focus is too narrow.

Ashrawi: "It should be part of a process and it should have a political context and a political focus. Then it becomes really important."

Pace: "Do you think it will have that though?"

Ashrawi: "It should. It shouldn't just discuss the issue of economic and security reforms. It should place everything in the context of a political process that will end (Israeli) occupation and bring about the two-state solution."

But that is not likely to happen, with Israeli officials warning against "politicizing" the conference. And, after last Friday's suicide bombing in Tel Aviv, there is likely to be increased pressure on President Abbas to get a handle on security and dismantle Palestinian militant groups.

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