Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Gathering of World Summiteers Hopes to Boost Mideast Peace

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Gathering of World Summiteers Hopes to Boost Mideast Peace

Article excerpt

TOMORROW'S hastily arranged summit on terrorism is likely to be short on substance but long on the political symbolism needed to buttress a Middle East peace process now under withering assault from Palestinian extremists.

"It has great symbolic meaning to Israel and sends a strong message to extremists in the region that the peace process has worldwide support," says an Israeli official of the one-day meeting, which will be held at the Red Sea resort of Sharm el Sheikh, in Egypt's Sinai peninsula.

The ostensible purpose of the gathering, which will bring together the leaders of the United States, Israel, more than a score of Arab and European nations, and Japan, is to discuss ways of combating the kind of suicide-bomb attacks that have left 62 dead in Israel over the past two weeks.

But far more important than any pronouncement about terrorism will be the clear message that the mere convening of such a meeting will send to several distinct constituencies: Hamas, the Palestinian faction that carried out the bombing campaign, the Israeli public, and Iran.

In particular, the meeting will be a crucial vote of confidence for Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres, who now faces longer odds in elections scheduled for May 29 and whose victory is regarded by Arab and Western nations as indispensable to sustaining the peace process.

Without quite saying so openly, US officials hope the meeting will help boost Mr. Peres in the polls, where, since the bombings, his 15-point advantage over his hard-line Likud party rival, Binyamin Netanyahu, has evaporated.

"The Israeli silent majority will welcome it, but in the end it's not what happens in international meetings but what happens on the ground in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem that matters," cautions Robert Lieber, a government professor at Georgetown University in Washington.

The message of the conference is also aimed at Iran, which is accused of providing crucial support for Hamas. With its economy in shambles, Iran is heavily dependent on loans from European nations. Their presence in Sharm el Sheikh is expected to reinforce Sunday's call by the European Union for Iran "to condemn, once and for all, all acts of terrorism. …

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