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Inclusion of Arab world in summit raises hopes

  • Story Highlights
  • Palestinian negotiator welcomes Syrian, Saudi participation in summit
  • Saeb Erakat says Arab presence will correct "mistakes" of past meetings
  • Syria to send deputy foreign minister for Tuesday's talks in Annapolis, Maryland
  • Talks aimed at triggering final status agreement between Israel and Palestinians
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A top Palestinian official Sunday hailed the fact that representatives of Arab countries will attend Tuesday's summit in Annapolis, Maryland.

Palestinians in Gaza City demonstrate Sunday against the Mideast peace talks.

"After seven years of total stalemate, President Bush with [Secretary of State Condoleezza] Rice are providing an opportunity for us and the Israelis to resume the negotiations," Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat said.

"The different thing today from any other conferences throughout our conflict -- you have the Arab world coming."

Erakat told CNN's "Late Edition" the inclusion of the wider international community will correct the mistakes of the last Israeli-Palestinian peace talks in the United States.

Syria and Saudi Arabia agreed to attend in the final days leading up to Tuesday's conference, after a push from the Arab League, which agreed to participate following a meeting on Friday.

Syria, which the U.S. State Department calls a sponsor of terrorism, announced Sunday it would send Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal al-Miqdad, rather than its foreign minister, to Tuesday's conference, according to Syria's state-run news agency SANA.

Israeli government spokeswoman Miri Eisen welcomed Damascus' decision to attend.

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"It's positive that Syria chose to send anybody," Eisen told CNN. "We weren't sure they would. The fact that they're choosing to send somebody who is openly Syrian ... [to] a conference which is all about the Israeli-Palestinian track is an important one."

"The whole world is coming to tell Palestinians and Israelis, 'We are standing shoulder to shoulder with you,' " Erakat said. "This is significant."

While the 2000 Camp David summit took the peace process "a long, long, long way," it was limited because it only included U.S., Israeli and Palestinian delegations, according to Erakat.

"Today I think we learned the mistakes of what went wrong in Camp David -- the absence of Arabs, the absence of the international community, the support system that should be provided by many parties," he told CNN. "This is what's being done today."

Erakat is part of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' delegation, which arrived at Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland, on Saturday night, as anxiety over possible Palestinian concessions prompted protesters to take to the streets of Gaza. Video Watch Gaza protests »

The Israeli delegation, led by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, arrived Sunday.

Erakat agreed that no "magic stick" would emerge from the 24-hour meeting in Annapolis, Maryland, but said it would provide the basis for talks that should begin the day after Tuesday's meeting.

"I think the most important thing today is [the] 28th of November, the day after Annapolis," Erakat said. "Palestinians and Israelis will stand next to each other and announce that they are launching the permanent status negotiations, deciding to put a work plan for the negotiations, and to carry out their obligations emanating from the road map."

Erakat told CNN his team is open to discussing land swaps, meaning that if Israel takes parts of the West Bank, then the Palestinian Authority could take parts of Israel for a future state.

On Monday, President Bush will hold separate White House meetings with Olmert and Abbas. Rice will hold a dinner Monday evening for all the delegations at the State Department, and Bush will speak.

Tuesday will be the main event, a full -- and likely long -- day of meetings. On Wednesday, the president again will meet the Israelis and Palestinians at the White House.

Rice described the final U.S. push for the conference -- persuading the Israelis and Palestinians to move past a demand for a new document before the conference and leap ahead to the new negotiations on Tuesday.

"It's hard in something this complex to just have principles," Rice explained. "The devil is in the detail. You might as well get to the detail, and that is what they are going to do."

The main thrust of the Annapolis talks will be establishment of an independent Palestinian state -- the two-state solution. But other huge issues related to regional peace are expected to surface, especially since long-time Israeli foes, Syria and Saudi Arabia and others, will attend.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State David Welch told reporters last week that everyone would have the opportunity to speak at Annapolis. "We will not turn the microphone off for anyone," he said.

The Syrian decision to attend comes less than three months after Israeli warplanes attacked a site in Syria reported to be a facility linked to nuclear weapons.

Israel accuses Syria of helping Palestinian militants who oppose the Jewish state's existence. It says Damascus is helping Iran and its anti-Israel policy.

Like Iran, Syria is listed on the U.S. State Department's roster of State Sponsors of Terrorism along with Cuba, North Korea and Sudan.


Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said Sunday the conference will draw a line between moderates and extremists in the Arab world.

"There will be those who are here, those who support the process, and there will be those who are shouting -- Hamas, Iran, Hezbollah," she said. "They will be on the outside trying to stop this conference from happening." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Ed Henry contributed to this report.

Copyright 2007 CNN. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Associated Press contributed to this report.

All About Middle East ConflictMahmoud AbbasEhud OlmertSyriaSaudi ArabiaArab League Nations

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