CAIRO: Two of the Arab nations most friendly to the US, Egypt and Jordan held a three-way summit with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Sharm El-Sheikh Thursday to bolster support for the much vaunted Annapolis peace conference on Nov. 27.
President Mubarak met first with Jordan’s King Abdullah to coordinate efforts for the Annapolis conference before meeting with Abbas later Thursday, and then eventually hosting a three-way meeting with both leaders.
Egypt and Jordan are supporters of the conference, the brainchild of the incumbent US administration, and like the Americans see it as a starting point for negotiations to be wrapped up within the year.
However, differences between the Palestinians and Israelis over the wording of the conference document have created a snag the week before the conference, with Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert failing to reach an agreement in their last meeting Monday.
The Palestinians want the conference document to include clear language that would indicate the direction of the final status talks, or core issues. These are the right of return for Palestinian refugees exiled since 1948, the borders of a future Palestinian state and the fate of Jerusalem whom both sides desire as a capital.
On the other hand, Israel prefers the language referring to the core issues to be more vague and ambiguous.
Another ambiguity surrounding the Annapolis conference is the level of Arab participation which is still unclear. An Arab ministerial meeting hosted by the Arab League in Cairo will take place today to discuss this very issue. The meeting was initially scheduled to be held Thursday.
One of the main questions yet to be answered is whether Saudi Arabia will participate in Annapolis, and in what form. Although strong US allies, the Saudis are reticent to commit to attending the conference until reassured of its seriousness.
Additionally, the participation of Syria is also unannounced and it is expected that Syria will make its position clear in the Arab League meeting. Publicly, Syria has declared it will not attend unless the fate of the Golan Heights is on the agenda, and the meeting will uncover whether that will change after intense Arab, Russian and Italian lobbying.
The day of the conference has only been announced recently – previously American officials placed the date as the fall – and the invitations sent out. Prior to that, the US administration were loathe to set a specific date, and US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice conducted a flurry of diplomatic visits to the region to bridge the divide between the two sides prior to announcing the date of the conference.