PA spurns Israeli gestures (JERUSALEM POST) By HERB KEINON 02/03/05)
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A day that began with Israel offering self-declared "far-reaching"
gestures to the Palestinian Authority, ended with a Palestinian
delegation angrily rejecting the offer and walking out of a meeting
with Dov Weisglass.
A Senior Israeli official said that the PA delegation, which included
Minister Saeb Erekat and Mohammed Dahlan, stormed out of the four-
hour meeting in Tel Aviv with Weisglass because earlier in the day
Israel decided to release "only" 900 security prisoners.
The Palestinians are demanding that Israel release thousands of
Palestinian prisoners, including those with "blood on their hands"
whom Israel refuses to release at this stage.
PA Cabinet Secretary Hasan Abu Libdeh attacked Israel´s gestures
as "insufficient" and complained that the Palestinians were not
consulted about the number or identities of the prisoners slated for
He warned that next week´s summit in Sharm el-Sheikh would fail if
Israel continued to ignore demands to release thousands of prisoners.
He said the PA leadership decided to put the case of the prisoners
atop its agenda because of its sensitivity and significance.
Dahlan, who said the numbers were too small, lashed out at Israel for
not coordinating the move in advance with the PA.
"The meeting we had today with Weisglass wasn´t good," he said. "The
Israelis don´t realize that the issue of the prisoners is very
important for us. It´s even more important than the withdrawal from
some cities in the West Bank."
The meeting with Weisglass was expected to prepare the agenda for the
four-way summit to be held in Sharm el-Sheikh on Tuesday between
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, Egyptian
President Hosni Mubarak and Jordan´s King Abdullah.
Weisglass presented the Palestinians with the decisions made earlier
in the day by the seven-man mini cabinet regarding the gestures
Sharon planned to announce at Sharm.
One senior Israel official said he was unfazed by the sudden crisis
that seemed to place a crimp in the optimism of recent days, saying
it fits the pattern of Palestinian negotiating brinkmanship.
"Over the last 15 years, whenever the two sides came close to
reaching some kind of agreement, the Palestinians would create a
crisis," he said.
Although the meeting was not immediately re-scheduled, the official
said it would surely take place before Tuesday´s summit, and that the
crisis was an attempt to wring more concessions from Israel before
"But this time it is preposterous, because of the unprecedented
gestures we made," he said.
Israel´s decision to release 900 prisoners – 500 shortly after the
Sharm summit, and an additional 400 over the next three month
conditional on what happens on the ground – was a source of debate in
the meeting of the mini-cabinet, with Vice Prime Minister Shimon
Peres and Minister Haim Ramon saying that Israel should not rule out
releasing those with "blood on their hands."
Sharon said he was not opposed to releasing those with blood on their
hands who have already served more than 20 years, and Peres said in
the meeting that Israel should not rule out anything, and judge each
Both Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom and Finance Minister Binyamin
Netanyahu, however, argued against releasing those who were
personally responsible for the killing of Israelis.
The debate was not only among ministers, however, as Shin Bet head
Avi Dichter was squarely opposed to releasing those with blood on
their hand, while Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Moshe Ya´alon was
not. The forum did agree, according to government officials, that the
first 500 would only be Fatah prisoners, not Hamas members.
The ministers in the so-called mini-cabinet include Sharon, Peres,
Shalom, Mofaz, Netanyahu, Ramon and Vice Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
Mofaz, who presented the forum with a menu of recommendations for
their approval, said "This period presents Israel with a strategic
opportunity. We have to be careful and calculated, but also give the
PA the chance to get into a process that can change the reality."
At the same time, however, Mofaz said that Israel should not be
lulled into a false sense of security, and that there have been 55
terror actions – including mortar firing, shootings and attempts to
plan roadside explosives – since the beginning of what has been
widely termed a "quiet" week.
Mofaz said the gestures he recommended were "reversible," and could
be carried out without harming the nation´s security.
In addition to the prisoner release, the mini cabinet decided to
begin the transfer of five West Bank cities to Palestinian security
control; set up a committee with the Palestinians to discuss Israel´s
most-wanted list, and the possibility of removing some names from
that list; and a series of steps, such as lifting roadblocks and
closures, to ease the Palestinian humanitarian situation.
It was also decided that Israel would restrain from initiating
military action in the territories, except in the case of ticking
bombs, defined as those either on their way to carrying out an
attack, or helping others carry out an imminent attack.
Regarding the transfer of security control, Mofaz said that it was
important that this be done gradually, and not "give the Palestinians
more than they can chew."
The transfer of the five cities – Jericho, Bethlehem, Tulkarem,
Kalkilya and Ramallah – will begin with what is considered the
easiest city to control, Jericho, and finish with the most difficult:
Ramallah. The order of the others has not yet been determined, and
the transfer will be staggered to judge how the PA is dealing with
one city, before moving on to another.
The forum agreed to a proposal put forward by Shalom that it meet to
approve each transfer individually.
As far as Israel´s most-wanted list is concerned, government sources
said that contrary to press reports, Israel has not decided to give
up pursuing Mohammed Deff, Israel´s most wanted terrorist, and that
the issue did not come up at the meeting.
The mini-cabinet decided, with regards to humanitarian measures, to
increase the number of work permits for Palestinians in Israel,
remove numerous blockades and roadblocks, open the Karni crossing and
increase the hours both there and at the Rafah crossing, and
authorize the building of a sea port in Gaza. Khaled Abu Toameh
contributed to this report (© 1995-2005, The Jerusalem Post 02/03/05)
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