Israel’s main highway No. 1 from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem was completely closed to traffic from 16h30 until 19h30 Sunday evening, to allow for the secure and unimpeded arrival of six European leaders who had earlier attended a meeting in Egypt co-hosted by Egyptian President Husni Mubarak and French President Nicholas Sarkozy.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert invited them to dinner in his official residence in Jerusalem.
The dinner was organized less than 20 hours into a cease-fire that Israel had unilaterally proclaimed after twenty-two days of military attack on Gaza.
They all wore business attire and suits — and posed for photo-ops as if it were a G-8 Summit. There were floral arrangements, plenty of flags, and avowals of unusually close friendships.
Haaretz reported that “Olmert told European leaders visiting Jerusalem on Sunday evening that in the wake of the cease-fire, Israel planned to withdraw all of its troops as soon as possible. He said that such a move would come when the situation between Israel and Gaza was ‘stable’.” This was posted on the Haaretz website here.
The dinner was publicly announced at the Israeli Government’s regular weekly Cabinet Meeting on Sunday. Olmert said that the six European leaders would “come to Israel in order to express their support, for the multi-lateral, comprehensive move, which we formulated along with the US, Egypt and others in order to bring quiet to the south of the country”.
Olmert explained at the start of the Cabinet meeting that “The decision leaves Israel with the freedom to respond and resume firing if our enemies, the various terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip, continue their attacks. This morning, some of them have continued shooting and have thereby proved what we warned of in advance – the ceasefire is fragile and must be reconsidered minute by minute, hour after hour. IDF forces are in the Gaza Strip and many other units, which are surrounding Gaza from all sides, are closely observing every corner and listening to every whisper, ready for any response that they might receive from their commanders if and when the violations continue, as they have this morning. We hope that the firing will stop, after we ourselves have halted firing, but if it continues, the IDF will respond”.
The honored guests in Jerusalem on Sunday evening were: the current President of the European Council, Prime Minister of the Czech Republic, Mirek Topolanek; the President of France, Nicholas Sarkozy; the Chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel; the Prime Minister of Great Britain, my friend Mr. Gordon Brown; the Prime Minister of Italy, Silvio Berlusconi; and the Prime Minister of Spain, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.
The occasion was treated as a great occasion, in Israel — like the celebrations last May for the 60th Anniversary of Israel’s unilateral proclamation of independence.
The big bright blue-and-white 60th anniversary logo sign lit up Highway No. 1 near the entrance to Jerusalem.
Olmert thanked the six European heads of government “for demonstrating your impressive support for the State of Israel and your concern for its safety. The united front which you represent and your uncompromising stand with regard to the security of the State of Israel warms our hearts and strengthens us at this sensitive time”.
Olmert explained at the dinner that the Israeli government decided yesterday to cease-fire “to comply with the request of the Egyptian president”.
But, Olmert said, “Today it is clear to everyone that in order to achieve a stable ceasefire, Hamas must be prevented from building up its military capabilities through massive weapons smuggling from Iran and Syria to the Gaza Strip”.
Olmert mentioned a letter (a single letter) he received yesterday from Prime Minister of Great Britain Gordon Brown, Prime Minister of Italy Silvio Berlusconi, Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel and President of France Nicolas Sarkozy in which, according to Olmert, they “expressed profound commitment to assisting in every way possible in order to ensure that weapons will not succeed in reaching the murderous organizations in Gaza”. Now, Olmert said, that commitment must be translated “into actions which will prevent the terrorist organization, Hamas, from rearmament.”
Olmert said that “This is in the supreme interest of all those who fight the forces of evil. It is also in the interest of all those who believe wholeheartedly in and wish to advance the peace process between ourselves and the Palestinians”. He added that his government had “placed the matter of negotiations with the Palestinians at the top of our agenda alongside our concern for the security of Israel. We hope that stability in Gaza, the ceasefire and the undermining of the Hamas regime that is the inevitable result of the strengthening of President Abu Mazen, will allow us to advance the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians as rapidly as possible”.
Haaretz reported that at both their stops on Sunday — in Egypt and in Israel — the Europeans “pressed Sunday for an end to weapons smuggling into Gaza and for the opening of the territory to desperately needed humanitarian aid … The summit meeting concluded that the next steps would include a humanitarian summit organized by Egypt in the coming days and the search for a way to open Gaza’s sealed border crossings to allow in humanitarian aid”. This can be found on the Haaretz website here.
Olmert said to the European leaders at the dinner he hosted in Jerusalem: “For our part, out of the most basic human values, we have done and will continue to do all that is necessary to prevent a humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip and so that we can help the innocent civilians who fell victim to the terrorist organization. We are interested in working in conjunction with you in order to create better conditions for a peaceful and better life for the Palestinian population in the Gaza Strip. Through a joint, educated effort which will lessen the Hamas’s dominance, I believe we will succeed”.
There was no public dissention.