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Abbas, Sharon Will Meet Tues. To Sign Temporary Cease-Fire

By Steven Erlanger

The New York Times -- SHARM EL SHEIK, Egypt

The Israeli and Palestinian leaders, Ariel Sharon and Mahmoud Abbas, meet here Tuesday to seal a tentative cease-fire, in the highest-level contact between the two sides since the intifada began in 2000. President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt is the host, and King Abdullah II of Jordan will also attend.

So expectations are high -- unreasonably high, American, Israeli and Palestinian officials all privately agree. But after more than four years of suicide bombings and military raids, of bitterness and blood, all sides also want this meeting to symbolize the start of better relations or even, just possibly, a step back onto the road toward an eventual peace.

Public image matters too -- the art of how relations seem to be, or might become, not necessarily how they actually are.

Both sides are tired of war and conflict, but both are also fearful of a peace that is not real but merely for show. Whatever trust the Oslo accords of 1993 were supposed to engender has entirely disappeared; the disappointment on both sides about the failure of that agreement, after the euphoria that greeted it, has a lasting tang of bitterness and mutual betrayal.

Even now, the two sides are far from being engaged in negotiations about a peace settlement. Instead, they are having the first civil discourse in years, in the hope that a fragile quiet will lead to a long-term cease-fire and then, perhaps, enough trust on both sides to make the painful sacrifices required for peace.

At the summit meeting Tuesday, Abbas is expected to declare broad Palestinian agreement on a long-term cease-fire with the Israelis. A senior Palestinian official says Abbas may even declare “a cessation of armed conflict,” which would effectively be a declaration of a halt to the armed intifada after the deaths of more than 1,000 Israelis and 3,000 Palestinians.

Such a declaration would itself be a bold step for the cautious Abbas, who has barely begun to solidify his hold on real power. But senior Israeli officials caution that intent is not deed.