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Sunday, December 31, 2006

ANALYSIS: Saudi Arabia will offer Hamas Arab 'road map' to peace

ANALYSIS: Saudi Arabia will offer Hamas Arab 'road map' to peace
By Zvi Bar'el, Haaretz Correspondent  Last update - 08:21 29/12/2006

A minor dispute over semantics took place earlier this week between Jordanian and Palestinian analysts, regarding the tripartite summit among Ismail Haniyeh, Mahmoud Abbas and King Abdullah that is expected to take place in Jordan next week: Will Abbas and Haniyeh arrive in Amman separately, or will Haniyeh "accompany" Abbas? That word, "accompany," caused a ruckus.

It is an important question, which touches on the issue of pride: If Haniyeh is accompanying Abbas, that means that Abbas is the "big man" of the visit. If he arrives separately, then he is not accompanying Abbas; he is taking part as an independent leader. For the time being, the answer is that they will arrive separately. Haniyeh will first visit Saudi Arabia for the Hajj, while Abbas will cross into Jordan from the West Bank.

A date for the meeting has still not been set, but when it does take place, it may usher in two changes: Jordan, for the first time after a very long time, will lift its double boycott of Hamas and hold talks with the organization's senior representative in the territories. In addition, it is
aspiring to assume a significant role in the diplomatic process.

The first embargo on Hamas was imposed in 1999, when Jordan expelled the organization's officials and closed its offices. The second was imposed this year, because of weapons and explosives smuggling that Jordan attributed to Hamas. Hence, the novelty of the expected meeting, which will also distinguish among representatives of Hamas: Khaled Meshal, the Damascus-based head of the group's political bureau, is not invited, but Prime Minister Haniyeh is. In this way, King Abdullah is sending a signal about which people Jordan is willing to do business with. And the normalization of relations between Jordan and Hamas in the territories may offer Haniyeh needed leverage against Meshal when they hold talks about diplomatic offers on which they may have to decide in the future.

The Jordanian initiative is not a product of impulse. It is the fruit of coordination with Egypt, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, who are concerned that
calling new elections, as Abbas has demanded, might yield unwelcome, even dangerous, results. Also contributing to this initiative is the pressure that these Arab states are under to aid the Palestinians, as well as recognition of the fact that the embargo on Hamas will not bring about the collapse of the government it heads in the Palestinian Authority.

The Arab states are aspiring to establish a Palestinian unity government that will be able to function on two levels: to commit to a stable
cease-fire, and also to operate PA institutions. Saudi Arabia is likely to present Haniyeh with a softer version of the Arab League's Beirut resolution of 2002, which might pave the way for Hamas to accept this declaration. Jordanian sources say that this proposal will include elements such as an Israeli withdrawal to "temporary lines" and a Palestinian cease-fire for five years, during which, or at the end of which, the two sides will carry out negotiations. In parallel, economic cooperation between Israel and Palestine would resume.

These points are expected to be at the crux of discussions between Ehud Olmert and Hosni Mubarak during their meeting next Thursday.

Regarding the role Syria is playing in these development, Jordanian sources told Haaretz that it is playing a "useful role," and if a unity government is set up "and a reasonable formula is accepted for furthering the diplomatic process, Syria will back it."

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