Prospects fade for Palestinian-Israeli summit
A much-anticipated summit between the Israeli and Palestinian leaders was suddenly thrown into doubt after Israel's defense minister rejected two key Palestinian demands meant to make the meeting a success. Senior Israeli and Palestinian negotiators failed to bridge the differences Sunday, but they agreed to meet one last time in hopes of salvaging the summit.
The two sides are deadlocked over several Palestinian demands, including the reopening of Gaza's border with Egypt, the handover of West Bank towns to Palestinian security control, the release of prisoners held by Israel and demands for more weapons for the embattled Palestinian security services. Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz opposes any further handovers of Palestinian towns, the Defense Ministry said. Mofaz also objects to supplying Abbas' security forces with new weapons. Mofaz's decision raised doubts about the summit.
After both Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said there was no point in meeting without thorough preparations, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said his agenda-setting talks with Sharon adviser Dov Weisglass in Tel Aviv had
failed to iron out all the differences and the two men would meet again Monday.
"We agreed on some points but there are some other points over which there are still differences," Erekat said.
"We agreed to meet again tomorrow [Monday]," he added.
The plan to meet tomorrow was first announced after Jordan's King Abdullah spoke to the leaders.
Sharon told his Cabinet yesterday that he didn't know if the meeting will take place, stressing that he will not make moves that he believes threaten Israel's security.
"Holding the contacts is important, but one does not go in without proper preparation," Sharon was quoted as telling Sunday's Cabinet meeting.
"There are gestures that Israel can and will make, and there are gestures that it won't," he said, according to meeting participants.
One of his close aides emphasized after the Erekat-Weisglass meeting that Sharon still wanted a summit to take place.
"I think both sides are serious about having this meeting take place but as the prime minister has said, if it is not just going to be a photo-op, we've got to prepare it well so we can have decisions and agreements," he said.
Speaking to reporters late Saturday, Abbas said he did not want a summit which would "frustrate or disappoint the Palestinian or the Israeli public."
"A meeting with Prime Minister Sharon should have content and not just be a mere public relations meeting," he said.
Abbas and Sharon are each expected to use the summit, their first since June, to demand that the other carry out commitments agreed at a cease-fire conference in February.
Abbas will press Israel to free more Palestinian prisoners and hand over security control of more cities in the occupied West Bank, moves that could improve his standing with the Palestinian public.
Sharon, fresh from a bruising leadership battle in his rightist Likud Party, will push Abbas to do more to disarm militant groups dedicated to Israel's destruction.
Both sides want to improve their standing in Washington's eyes ahead of Abbas' White House talks with U.S. President George W. Bush scheduled for October 20.
Israel reopened a cargo crossing on its border with Gaza yesterday, and Palestinians said this would alleviate a shortage of fruit and dairy products in the territory. The Karni passage and others had been closed almost continuously since September 24 after dozens of rockets were fired from Gaza into Israel.
Separately, Israeli soldiers shot dead an armed Palestinian yesterday during a raid in the occupied West Bank. Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades announced the death over loudspeakers in the city of Nablus, saying one of its members was killed in a gun battle with Israeli troops.
In other developments, Abbas and Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmad Qorei are to attend a gathering in memory of slain Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, organizers said. - Agencies