Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will meet next week, their first summit since Israel withdrew its soldiers and settlers from the Gaza Strip, Sharon’s office said on Wednesday.
A statement posted on the office Web site quoted Sharon as telling Jordan’s King Abdullah by telephone that “he intends to meet the Palestinian Authority chairman next week in order to advance the various issues on the agenda.”
In Amman, a Jordanian palace official told Reuters that the summit would take place on Tuesday, at Abdullah’s behest. But both Palestinian and Israeli officials said the date and venue would be set when Sharon’s and Abbas’ aides meet on Friday.
Israel’s pullbacks from Gaza and a corner of the West Bank, completed on Sept 12, were the first removal of Jewish settlements from occupied land where Palestinians seek statehood and stirred international hopes of ending five years of fighting.
A summit expected earlier this month was deferred because of a lack of preparation and amid a surge in violence, with Israel answering militant rocket fire from Gaza with air strikes and arrest sweeps.
Leaders first met in February
Sharon and Abbas held their first summit in February, soon after Abbas was elected to succeed late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, and declared a cease-fire which paved the way for the Israeli withdrawals.
A second meeting, in Jerusalem in June, was overshadowed by fresh bloodshed and recrimination over mutual failures to honor commitments under the U.S.-led peace “road map.” But Sharon and Abbas cemented an agreement to coordinate the Gaza pullout.
The Palestinians say a final accord depends on Israel quitting all of the West Bank, where the vast majority of settlers live.
Sharon says Israel will never cede West Bank settlement blocs, although he has hinted that dozens of smaller enclaves could be removed under a future peace agreement.
Pre-election power struggles on both sides militate against viable peacemaking anytime soon.
Sharon is talking tough on settlement blocs to counter opposition from rightist hard-liners in his own party. Abbas faces a strong challenge from Hamas, an Islamic military group sworn to Israel’s destruction, in a January parliamentary poll.