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Israeli and Palestinian Leaders Plan Summit


Israeli and Palestinian leaders are planning a rare summit meeting. They are facing major obstacles to putting the peace process back on track.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert says he will hold his first summit with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the coming days to discuss reviving peace talks. The peace process broke down after the Islamic militant group Hamas won Palestinian elections in January.

But in the wake of the war in Lebanon Israel wants to mend fences with the Arab world, and it hopes to start with its closest neighbor - the Palestinians.

Israel will not talk to Hamas because it seeks the destruction of the Jewish state. But Mr. Abbas is from the more moderate Fatah party, and Israel believes he can be a peace partner.

But Israeli spokesman Mark Regev says progress depends on whether Mr. Abbas can fulfill his commitment under the internationally-backed "road map" peace plan and restrain militant groups like Hamas.

"We want to see movement; stagnation is not good for us. We'd like to be able to more forward in accordance with the road map for peace," he said. "And the minute the Palestinians can pick up the ball and say they are partners in peace, we're willing to go with them."

Mr. Abbas says he is ready to negotiate a final peace deal with Israel. But Hamas believes the only way to achieve Palestinian statehood is through jihad or holy war. Hamas spokesman Ahmed Yousef says negotiations with Israel have been a waste of time.

"See, I don't think it's a big step from Mr. Olmert toward the Palestinian issue just to come back to talk about [the] roadmap," he said.

Mr. Abbas is trying to form a more moderate national unity government with Hamas in a bid to end crippling international sanctions on the Palestinian Authority. The proposed platform of the new government would support the peace process, but talks broke down over the refusal of Hamas to recognize Israel.

So while there may be a summit, expectations are low on both sides for a breakthrough.