- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 29, 2003

Arab leaders appear resigned to the fact that Yasser Arafat will no longer play a major role in the Middle East peace process, judging by their acceptance of his absence from two key summits next week, U.S. officials said yesterday.

“They have been very quiet about it,” a senior State Department official said of reaction to Washington’s decision not to invite Mr. Arafat to President Bush’s meetings with Arab leaders on Monday, and with the Israeli and Palestinian prime ministers on Tuesday.

“It hasn’t been a big deal for them,” the official said. “They understand how the world works.”

White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer, referring to Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, said “the proper representatives of the Palestinian people … who believe in peace and are espousing the cause of peace” will attend the two summits, in Egypt and Jordan.

The Egyptian ambassador to Washington, Nabil Fahmy, said his country and others in the region “will continue to deal” with Mr. Arafat.

But he acknowledged that, for the peace process to produce results, the United States must be deeply involved — and to make sure that happens, Washington’s conditions have to be met.

A summit in Sharm el Sheik, the Egyptian Red Sea resort, will gather Mr. Bush, Mr. Mubarak and Mr. Abbas with Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and Kings Abdullah II of Jordan, Hamad bin Issa al-Khalifa of Bahrain and Mohammed VI of Morocco.

A separate summit with Mr. Bush, Mr. Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon will take place in the Jordanian Red Sea resort of Aqaba.

The United States decided to stop dealing with Mr. Arafat a year ago, after concluding that he was not serious about cracking down on militant groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which have conducted suicide bombings against Israeli civilians.

In an interview with the Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot, Mr. Abbas said: “I believe that next week I will reach a cease-fire agreement with Hamas.”

But Mr. Fleischer said a cease-fire would not be sufficient.

“Should the Palestinians declare a cease-fire, it must be accompanied by parallel steps to disarm and dismantle terrorists and terrorist infrastructure,” he said.

Hamas leaders said they were studying Mr. Abbas’ proposal. The prime minister failed to secure a deal with the group in talks last week.

The al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, a militant group affiliated with the Fatah faction, to which both Mr. Arafat and Mr. Abbas belong, issued a statement rejecting “the road map to hell.”

The United States yesterday froze assets of a leading fund-raising organization for Hamas. The Treasury Department designated the Al-Aqsa Foundation a “global terrorist entity,” blocking all the assets the group may have in this country and banning U.S. banks, companies and individuals from doing business with it.

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