Peace Summit Scene

Feb. 9, 2005 8:50 a.m.
Sharm el-Sheik

Quite often this business takes me places I've never heard of, or were only vaguely familiar with — places I most likely would never go on my own but am thrilled to experience.
The downside is, when I reach these exotic locales, we're usually working so hard for so many hours that there isn't time to really explore the place.
So I find myself in Sharm el-Sheik, Egypt, a resort town on the Red Sea, for just under 30 hours. We flew in on an Arkia charter organized by the Foreign Press Association in Israel. There were more than 100 journalists, but no one else on the forty-minute flight.
After landing we boarded buses on the tarmac and drove to a private terminal full of Egyptian security personnel who stamped our passports and expedited our entry, even providing a police escort to some of the group (we declined).

Sharm el-Sheik is clean and well kept. There are no high-rises on the beach, just a series of one-to three-story hotels, clubs, shopping centers, and casinos. All of them were white stucco with grand porticos, columns, and liberal use of marble and other decorative stone. Most of the buildings were surrounded by palm trees, lit with spotlights or wrapped in neon. We had a couple hours the first night to sightsee and have a drink in the main shopping district downtown, which was a big pedestrian mall with tacky and cool shops and outdoor cafes. Definitely worth a return visit.
As for the main event, the Mideast Peace Summit, I never actually saw Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, King Abdullah of Jordan, or the host, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak except on a TV feed. We and hundreds of other journalists weren't allowed in the main building where the talks were taking place. We set up behind a row of villas under construction at the golf resort hosting the afternoon-only talks. Every network you never heard of was there, along with most of the ones you have. Anchors, reporters, and camera people were standing on tables and chairs and boxes to get a clear view of the entrance where the leaders and their delegations came and went. Each of the villas under construction had big empty pools behind them that were like giant blue sandtraps. I kept waiting for one of my fellow journos to fall in, but no one did.
Our workspace was under a makeshift wooden frame with a rug-like tarp. I set up my laptop on a table next to an engineer from Cairo near a giant portable satellite dish that made it possible for us to transmit our story back to FNC in NYC. Not a very glamorous workspace, but the shade was helpful since it was very sunny and about 75 degrees, a gorgeous day with clear skies and a light breeze. It got cold at night though, freezing in fact, and since we were seven hours ahead, I needed my coat and even gloves for the hits from noon to "Studio B."
The charter flight home was at 6 a.m. the next morning, but for security reason we had to be at the airport at 3:30, which meant most of us never slept.
By all accounts the summit itself was a success. Everyone was smiling and joking and inviting each other to visit their countries. Sharon even asked Abbas to his ranch in the Negev desert. A cease-fire was announced, and everyone appeared to go home happy. Whether it's really the first step on the path to peace or just another photo-op raising false hopes, we'll just have to wait and see.

E-mail Rick!

[Ed. note: Click the video tab in the upper right to watch video of Leventhal's reports.]

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Hay Rick,

Don't get down hearted about not getting to see our Sec. of State. You were with my son back in the push into Baghdad (1st Marines 3rd LAR) I have the picture that you took with them. John went back to Iraq last summer and should be coming home again soon. I follow your reports and enjoy all your work. Keep it up.

Lovin' ya from California!

Welcome to Israel. Happy to read that the Israeli barber gave you a great cut.
Israel is a wonderful country. Even though we have 'problems,' I could never think of living anywhere else.

— Miriam (Netivot, Israel)

When I was a recruit at Paris Island, South Carolina the barber there asked me if I wanted to keep my hair. So he shaved it all off my head and said "here you are," as he placed my shaved-off hair in my cupped hands!

— Marv (Rome, NY)


Try Tokyo for an artistic and pleasurable experience that is meticulously hand cut to exacting standards.

— Richard


I wanted to let you know I am a big fan of yours. I certainly have been watching FOX since it came to the Detroit area. Israel... I don't think you can even think of that region without violence being associated with it. It would be nice if W or any President could spread the freedom.

— Lisa