- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 23, 2008

A planned follow-up to November’s highly-touted Middle East peace conference in Annapolis will likely be postponed or even canceled because of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ reluctance to take part, Western and Palestinian diplomats said yesterday.

The diplomats said Mr. Abbas, who meets with President Bush at the White House tomorrow, is doubtful that anything of value would be accomplished at the conference, set to take place in Moscow in June.

“President Abbas is not that keen on a conference in Moscow anymore,” one Arab official said. “It’s not clear what exactly its focus would be and what results it will produce.”

A Russian official said no decision had been made, but he insisted that the idea is still on the table. It is “being discussed among Quartet members,” he said in reference to the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations.

More than 50 countries participated in the Annapolis conference in November.

A Western official said Israel was never interested in attending the Moscow sequel because it does not see any benefit in another large gathering and prefers to negotiate directly with the Palestinians and only a few other countries.

The Jewish state also is opposed to Russia’s plan to put Israeli-Syrian issues, such as the Golan Heights, on the conference agenda. Israel wants to resolve those matters separately, and the United States agrees, the official added.

An Israeli official said participation “depends on the parameters” of the conference. He noted that his country always prefers to “sit down with the other party,” rather than get distracted by more international events.

“How many other detours can you take?” he said.

All officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment publicly on behind-the-scenes diplomacy.

During a visit to Moscow last week, Mr. Abbas called for a conference “as soon as possible” in order to push “the peace process forward.”

Palestinian and other Arab diplomats said he has had second thoughts and will not be pushing for the gathering anymore when he meets Mr. Bush. At the same time, they said Mr. Abbas would probably attend, albeit reluctantly, if it happens.

Another Arab official said the United States does not support a bigger role for Russia in the peace process, such as hosting a major conference.

Mr. Abbas said yesterday that he would meet again with Mr. Bush in Egypt on May 17, after the president’s visit to Israel for its 60th anniversary. The Israeli official said his government had not received an invitation for the Egypt meeting.

During a stop in Iceland on his way to Washington, Mr. Abbas said former President Jimmy Carter had “failed to convince” the militant Palestinian group Hamas that it should endorse a two-state peace deal with Israel.

Mr. Carter said after private meetings with Hamas leaders in Egypt and Syria last week that the Islamist group would accept the deal if approved in a referendum. But Hamas said on Monday that it would continue to reject Israel’s right to exist.

After ruling out a truce with Israel that Egypt has been trying to broker, the group said yesterday that it would accept a cease-fire in just the Gaza Strip. Hamas militants have been firing rockets into Israel from Gaza, prompting retaliatory Israeli air strikes.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who is expected to meet with Mr. Abbas today, disputed Mr. Carter’s assertion that the State Department had not warned him against meeting with Hamas members.

“I just don’t want there to be any confusion,” Miss Rice said in Kuwait. “The United States is not going to deal with Hamas, and we had certainly told President Carter that we did not think meeting with Hamas was going to help.”

Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama weighed in on the issue yesterday, saying Mr. Carter’s negotiation attempt was a “bad idea.”

“What we are seeing now is that, even as President Carter suggests there was breakthrough, you had some of the same old rhetoric coming out of Hamas representatives with regard to Israel,” Mr. Obama told reporters while campaigning in Pennsylvania on primary day.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

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