Peres-Arafat Meeting Still In the Works Despite Violence

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:10 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - The Israeli army was helping Jerusalem police guard against terror attacks on Wednesday after a string of bombings in the city left more than 20 people injured.

Despite the violence, diplomats were working behind the scenes, trying to arrange a meeting between Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat. It is hoped that such a meeting might bring about a ceasefire after more than 11 months of violence and terrorism.

Nabil Abu Rudeineh, an advisor to Arafat, said on Wednesday that the meeting, agreed to several weeks ago by both sides, would likely take place sometime next week, probably in the region.

Rudeineh said that Arafat had told European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana that he would contact him on Sunday to arrange the details of a meeting with Peres. Solana met with both sides this week in an attempt to put together the ceasefire meeting.

Earlier, diplomats had predicted that Arafat and Peres would get together on the sidelines of an economic conference in Italy over the weekend but Peres said that seems unlikely now.

"The preparations are going on, and we would like to allow a meeting in a more isolated place, without so many television cameras and tens of journalists," Peres told a meeting of foreign diplomats on Tuesday.

"We shall do whatever is needed to defend our lives, and we shall do whatever is possible to bring peace to our neighborhood," he added.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Yaffa Ben-Ari said Israel has one goal in the meeting: bringing about a cessation of the violence in order to come to the place where the Mitchell committee recommendations can be implemented.

The committee, led by former U.S. Senator George Mitchell, came up with a plan to halt the violence and -- through a series of steps -- return the two sides to the negotiating table.

"The main aim of this channel is to achieve a cessation of the Palestinian violence in order to enable us to engage in the Mitchell Committee recommendations," Ben-Ari said.

"The cessation of violence is the first stage which will activate the process according to the Mitchell committee," she added.

Senior PA officials met with Peres on Monday to work on an agenda for the forecast Peres-Arafat meeting.

PA parliament speaker Ahmed Qureia was quoted as saying that there were "non-stop" efforts being made to produce a ceasefire agreement and a timetable for the renewal of negotiations.

However, Qureia said that the Palestinians had told Peres that, "without a political horizon, there will be no security horizon."

Peres, one of the architects of the 1993 peace process accords, has been empowered by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to discuss only the issue of a ceasefire but not political issues.

A diplomatic source in Jerusalem said that officials on both sides are trying to be cautious about focusing too much attention on what can be achieved in one meeting. The officials are concentrating instead on a series of advance meetings between officials at various levels to prepare for a ceasefire agreement.

"Apparently, once you open the strategy of war, it's difficult to go back to the strategy of peace," the source said.

The Palestinians have to know that if they agree to sustain a ceasefire there will be a new horizon ahead for them. Israel is trying to make a separation between its struggle against terrorism and preventing the suffering of the remainder of the Palestinian population, the source added.

Tens of thousands of Palestinians have been prevented from entering Israel to work since last October by Israeli security closures on PA areas. The atmosphere in the region has also contributed to a deterioration in both the Israeli and Palestinian economies.

According to a radio report on Wednesday, Sharon, who is currently in Moscow, indicated that he would prefer the meeting not take place against the backdrop of the bombing attacks in Jerusalem. He emphasized that the PA is not doing anything to fight terrorism.

Tight Security

In Jerusalem, about 150 soldiers were added to the police force on Wednesday after a suicide bomber blew himself up earlier, killing himself and wounding 20 others.

"We just hope that the reinforcements we [received] will prevent other cases like that which occurred yesterday," a police spokesman said.

Jerusalem police chief commander Mickey Levy said that a greater tragedy had been averted.

Two border policemen, alerted by a passer-by, closed-in on the suicide bomber on Tuesday who was dressed like an ultra-religious Jew. When they called to him to stop he turned around and looked at them and smiled and then detonated his charge, blowing himself to bits and seriously injuring the policeman closest to him.

Four other bombs exploded in Jerusalem on Monday, causing some damage and several light injuries.