Israel Awaits Bush Meeting Before Accepting Road Map
July 7, 2008
Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - Israel re-closed the Gaza Strip early Monday, following warnings of terror attacks. Only hours earlier, Israel had lifted the Gaza Strip closure as a goodwill gesture to the Palestinians during the visit of Secretary of State Colin Powell.
Powell met with Israeli and Palestinians leaders over the weekend in an attempt to activate the "road map," a plan designed to bring about an end to violence and establish a Palestinian state by 2005.
On Monday, Powell met with representatives from the other members of the Quartet who helped to pen the road map. The other members are the European Union, Russia and United Nations. He then left for Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan.
But the results of Powell's visit here were inconclusive. The Palestinians reportedly were disappointed that Powell did not pressure Israel to announce its acceptance of the road map.
Israel is holding out until Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon meets with President Bush in Washington early next week.
"We are waiting," said sources in Jerusalem who spoke on condition of anonymity on Monday.
Israel has said that it accepts the plan Bush laid out in a Middle East policy speech last June, in which he called for a change in Palestinian leadership as well as a halt to terrorism.
But the current "road map" includes other elements that are troubling to Jerusalem. One of the sticking points is the idea of parallel implementation. Israel wants proof that the PA is vigorously combating terror before making any concessions.
Israel also objects to the so-called Saudi initiative, put forth last year, which apparently holds the same weight in the "road map" as Bush's initiative.
The Saudi initiative promises that all the Arab states will make peace with Israel if Israel agrees to withdraw completely from the West Bank and Gaza Strip, including eastern Jerusalem, which would become the capital of a future Palestinian state.
Israel has agreed to a settlement based on U.N. resolutions 242 and 338, which call for an Israeli withdrawal from land occupied as a result of the 1967 Six-Day war. But just how much land is a point of debate.
Israel says it may agree to some of these points as a result of negotiations. However, sources said Israel is concerned that if it agrees to all the provisions, it won't have anything left to bargain with. Meanwhile, the Palestinians will have a state and everything they want with no reason to stop the terrorism.
Several militant groups say they won't stop fighting until Israel has been eradicated.
Following his meeting with Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas on Sunday, Powell said that he is convinced that Abbas -- whom the U.S. and others hope will replace Arafat -- intends to fight terrorism.
"He intends to deliver," Powell said in an interview with Israeli television. "I was impressed by his commitment to move forward with the peace process. He knows that in order to move forward there must be an end to terror; there must be an end to violence."
Abbas said that the Palestinians had accepted the road map despite "some reservations" in order "to give a way for the peace process."
He said he was interested in ending settlement activity, the siege on the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the wall Israel has started building to separate parts of the West Bank and Israel, and targeted killings among other things.
The first phase of the road map calls on Israel to freeze all settlement building activity and removal illegal outposts that have been planted during the last two years.
Calling it "one of the most difficult issues we have to deal with," Powell said he had talked to Sharon about "the fact that the settlements are a problem."
He added that Bush intends to speak to Sharon in "very open, straightforward, honest, candid terms" about the settlements when they meet in Washington next week.
For his part, Sharon said that Israel would not make concessions and not compromise on security, "not now and not in the future."
According to reports, Sharon will meet with Abbas by the end of the week before he leaves for the meeting in Washington.
Israel made a number of humanitarian gestures toward the Palestinians on Sunday, including the lifting of the general closure of the West Bank and Gaza Strip; issuing 25,000 work permits; allowing PA institutions involved in reform to convene; and renewing security talks with the PA.
But the decision to lift the closure on the Gaza Strip was reversed early Monday following a security evaluation, which indicated impending attacks.
The travel ban forbids everyone except for foreign diplomats and humanitarian cases from leaving the Gaza Strip. But it does allow Palestinian fisherman to continue to fish within the six-mile limit off the Gaza coast.
In Rafah, along the Israeli-Egyptian border, Israeli troops killed two Palestinians who were planting a bomb near troops, who were searching for weapons smuggling tunnels, Palestinian and Israeli sources said.
The troops demolished two abandoned structures and tunnels used to smuggle weapons into the PA. The troops came under heavy fire from all directions, the army said.