Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - Israeli-Palestinian peace is not possible if Israel continues to build a security barrier between Israel and the West Bank, a Palestinian official said on Wednesday.
The dispute between Israel and the U.S. over the building of the barrier, which Israel calls a fence and the Palestinians and President Bush have called "a wall," came up during the meeting between Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on Tuesday.
Israelis were pleased but Palestinians were disappointed with Sharon's comment after the meeting that construction of the security fence would continue.
Palestinian Authority lawmaker Saeb Erekat blasted the continuation of building "the wall" and said peace with the Palestinians is not possible if it continues.
"If Mr. Sharon...wants to make peace with the Palestinians he cannot do it through the continuation of the security wall," Erekat said in a telephone interview.
"As far as the wall is concerned, [we] expected President Bush to say 'stop it' after he said the continuation of building the wall was 'a problem,'" Erekat added.
Following his meeting with PA Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas last Friday, Bush had indicated that he would take a tough stand against the wall, calling its construction "a problem."
The statement fueled media speculation that the 90-mile barrier - an electronic fence in some places, a wall in other places - would be a contentious issue when Bush and Sharon met. Although it is clearly an issue of disagreement, any U.S.-Israeli strife over the issue was muted.
"The most effective way to fight terror is to dismantle terrorist organizations," Bush said when asked about the fence by an Israeli reporter. "And therefore, I would hope in the long term, a fence would be irrelevant. But look, the fence is a sensitive issue."
Bush said the U.S. and Israel would continue to discuss the fence/wall to make sure that not only would Israel have security but Palestinians would be able to live normal lives as well.
Palestinians complain that the fence is built on confiscated lands, cuts them off from agricultural lands and towns and would make it impossible for them to travel unhindered through the West Bank.
PA Chairman Yasser Arafat called the fence a "Berlin Wall" that would divide Palestinian areas into ghettos.
PA Information Minister Nabil Amr was quoted as saying that Sharon's pledge to continue construction on the fence was "disappointing" and said it would "complicate matters and dampen the positive atmosphere" that surrounded the endorsement of the "road map."
But Israel points to the fence surrounding the Gaza Strip as an example of how a barrier can prevent terror attacks. No suicide bombers have penetrated into Israel from the Gaza Strip during the last three years.
"A security fence will continue to be built with every effort to minimize the infringement on the daily life of the Palestinian population," Sharon said in his speech.
Sharon also vowed to dismantle unauthorized outposts in the West Bank and promised to take additional steps to accommodate the Palestinians "if calm prevails and we witness the dismantlement of terror organizations."
Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert called the Bush-Sharon meeting "very successful" and said that there were "no unforeseen disputes."
Israeli Ambassador to Washington Danny Ayalon, who participated in the talks, was quoted as saying that the fence was "not at the center of the talks."
Erekat downplayed confidence-building steps Israel has taken thus far, complaining that there still is no "comprehensive package" for the implementation of the road map.
Israel has removed three major roadblocks in the West Bank, which had previously hampered Palestinian travel, and it has pledged to release 540 Palestinian prisons, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad activists, shortly.
Palestinians want all of the at least 6,000 Palestinians released. But Bush backed Israel's criteria for not releasing prisoners who have "blood on their hands."
Bush said he didn't expect anyone "to release somebody from prison who will go kill somebody."
Meanwhile, Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz and head of PA Security Mohammed Dahlan were reportedly scheduled to meet on Wednesday to discuss the transfer of two more cities to Palestinian security control.
Reports said that the two cities in question would likely be Jericho and Kalkilya.
Israel turned over most of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank city of Bethlehem to Palestinian security control a month ago with the understanding that if the situation remained quiet, Israel would hand over other cities.
Nevertheless, Mofaz warned against a "great danger" if the PA remains inactive against terrorist groups. Mofaz reportedly told cabinet ministers that Israel could face a "huge wave of terrorism" if the agreement between the PA and terrorists for a temporary halt to violence ends.