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Hopes High for Progress at Israeli-Palestinian Summit

Some political analysts say Tuesday's summit could be the most significant development in the Middle East peace process since the Palestinian intifada began in September 2000.

Israel Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, will meet at the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.

The head of the al-Quds Center for Political Studies in Jordan, Uraib el-Rantawi, says he believes both sides are ready for peace.

"I think it is a very important starting point for the peace process in the Palestinian-Israeli track," he said. "I think there is serious preparation for this summit, and I hope that a serious and confirmed decision will be taken in that conference."

Mr. El-Rantawi says the death of long-time Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and subsequent election of Mr. Abbas to replace him has injected new momentum into the long-stagnant peace process.

"Since the election of the Palestinian new leadership, I think new hope is emerging in the area. I think both sides are very tired with this conflict," he said. It is time for both sides to take serious decisions, historical ones.

"And, I hope, by this summit a new agenda will be drawn and new steps will be taken, both by the Israelis and by both the Jordanians and Egyptians," continued Mr. El-Rantawi. "I do believe that the conference will be a very good starting point for a new process in the Middle East."

The summit is being hosted by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who withdrew the Egyptian ambassador to Israel in 2000 to protest what he said was the mistreatment of Palestinians. The summit Tuesday will mark the first time Mr. Mubarak has met face-to-face with Israeli Prime Minister Sharon.

King Abdullah of Jordan is also attending the summit. Egypt and Jordan are the only two Arab states to have signed peace treaties with Israel. And, like Egypt, Jordan removed its ambassador to Israel to protest Israeli military actions in the occupied territories.

But in recent weeks President Mubarak and King Abdullah have said they believe Mr. Sharon may be ready for peace.

The head of the political science department at Qatar University, Mohammed al-Musfr, says the timing of the summit is good, but he is not so sure it will produce substantive results.

"I think it is a very important meeting, and it is the right time to have this meeting for many reasons. The first reason is that the obstacles of the Palestinian Authority, Yasser Arafat, have expired. And, the new administration in Palestine was elected, and this is the right time for this kind of meeting. But, I am not expecting anything to come out of this meeting," he commented.

Mr. al-Musfr says he expects Israel to hold firm on its position that security must be guaranteed before the peace process can move forward. He says he thinks the Palestinians will continue to oppose any settlement on a piecemeal basis.

As for Egypt and Jordan, both analysts believe improved relations with Israel will occur as the result of the summit. A senior Arab League official, who asked not to be identified, said it was likely Egypt will return its ambassador to Israel within a matter of weeks. The same official predicted Jordan would do the same.