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Diplomats Discuss Prospects for Mideast Peace


Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Mahmoud Abbas meet Monday in the midst of political turmoil in the Palestinian territories. VOA White House Correspondent Paula Wolfson reports, Mideast experts from around the world will be keeping a close watch on the discussions.

Less than a week after Ehud Olmert met at the White House with President Bush, he is heading to Egypt for talks with Mahmoud Abbas, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, and Jordan's King Abdullah.

During the White House meeting, the United States and Israel underscored their support for President Abbas, who they consider to be the legitimate leader of the Palestinian people.

Mr. Abbas is in the midst of an often violent struggle for power with the extremist group Hamas, which won parliamentary elections early last year. His Fatah movement now controls the West Bank, while Hamas controls Gaza.

Monday's meeting in Egypt will focus on how best to solidify Mahmoud Abbas and the emergency government he recently put in place after dissolving parliament and dismissing the Hamas-affiliated prime minister.

During an appearance on CNN's Late Edition, the Israeli Ambassador to the United States, Sallai Meridor, said his country believes the meeting is very important. But he said Israel alone cannot dictate what happens in the region, and the Palestinian people ultimately will decide their own fate.

"We, America, and other friends in the region can and should help them as much as possible, but in the end they should all realize it is their choice to make and their action to take," said Meridor.

Appearing on the same program, Egypt's ambassador to the United States emphasized the danger posed by the split in the Palestinian ranks. Nabil Fahmy said a dialogue must emerge between Fatah and Hamas.

"We think it is a very serious derailment of the Palestinian cause," said Fahmy. "We will push the Palestinians to talk together under the right circumstances and respecting the legitimacy of the PA [the Palestinian Authority]."

One of America's foremost experts on the region, former Mideast envoy Dennis Ross, was interviewed on CNN along with the two ambassadors. He said the recent turmoil in the Palestinian territories may have provided Fatah with a much needed wake-up call.

"I think the key is going to be is Fatah prepared now to take the kind of steps that will restore their own credibility among the Palestinian people," said Ross.

"They lost an election. They lost an election largely because they lost credibility," he continued. "They were seen as being corrupt. They were seen as being detached from the Palestinian needs. They were seen as not delivering."

He said Fatah and Hamas are now engaged in a struggle for the Palestinian identity. He said Fatah, which is seen as more moderate, has the potential to succeed and later added he doubts Hamas will ever change and move away from its militant stand.

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