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Israel Lowers Expectations for Mideast Summit

13 February 2007

Israel is lowering expectations for a three-way Mideast summit next week, in which the United States will mediate between Israeli and Palestinian leaders. As Robert Berger reports from VOA's Jerusalem bureau, Israel is concerned about the formation of a new Palestinian unity government, in which moderates and militants will share power.

Israeli officials say there will be no talks on substantial issues at next Monday's summit in Jerusalem with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Officials say it will be too difficult to address concrete issues after Mr. Abbas agreed to a national unity government with the ruling Islamic militant group Hamas last week.

The announcement underscores Israeli concerns that Hamas has not met key conditions for lifting international sanctions, namely, renouncing violence and recognizing Israel. Hamas, which seeks Israel's destruction, has said that it will never recognize the Jewish state.

Therefore, Israel fears that Mr. Abbas is serving as a "fig leaf" for Hamas, which has not moderated its views.

Rice has said that Israel must offer the Palestinians a "political horizon" that will give them hope for achieving their goal of an independent state. And Israel says that will be on the agenda.

"If the Palestinian people choose to go with the moderates, and it is their choice, then there is a political horizon, there is international support, there is every reason for hope for a better future," said government spokesman Mark Regev.

Palestinian officials from Mr. Abbas' Fatah faction expressed disappointment with the Israeli position and urged Israel to give the new unity government a chance. They said it is high time to begin talks on a final peace agreement.

Palestinian analyst Wadia Abu Nasser says the summit must be more than a photo-op.

"I truly believe that there is a good chance for resuming the peace process. But we should proceed, both sides-mainly the Israelis-in going for real substantial talks," said Nasser.

But Israel is reluctant to offer substantial concessions while Hamas plays a senior role in the Palestinian government.

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