Post-Disengagement 'Peace Process' Lumbers Forward

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:16 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - Israel will do all that it can to support Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas but it will not endanger its own security in the process, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's spokesman said on Thursday. He spoke ahead of a planned meeting between Sharon and Abbas.

King Abdullah II of Jordan announced the meeting on Wednesday. Abdullah urged the parties "to honor their obligations towards the roadmap peace plan and take confidence-building measures," the Jordanian Petra News Agency said.

President Bush asked Abdullah last month to do what he could to help Israel and the P.A. to get back to their road map obligations.

Sharon and Abbas are due to meet next week in advance of Abbas' meeting with President Bush in Washington later this month.

The meeting between the two Middle Eastern leaders will be the first since Israel completed its pullout from the Gaza Strip and four northern West Bank settlements last month.

According to Sharon spokesman Dr. Ra'anan Gissin, Israel and the Palestinians are still in the "pre-road map" stage, which requires the Palestinians to control the terrorist organizations in their midst.

At the upcoming summit, Israel is willing to make gestures but they will be depend on the steps the P.A. is taking to crack down on terrorist groups and dismantle the terrorist infrastructure.

"Israel will make steps to help [Abbas] in gaining control over the area [in Gaza]," said Gissin. Israel is willing to remove roadblocks and ease travel restrictions, but not at the expense of Israeli security, he said.

"Any easing of restrictions cannot carry a security penalty" for Israel, which would also undermine Abbas, Gissin said.

Since Israel completed its disengagement from Gaza, lawlessness has been on the rise in the P.A. areas, including clashes between P.A. security forces and Hamas militants.

Earlier this week, dozens of P.A. policemen stormed a Palestinian parliamentary session focused on the growing anarchy. The policemen demanded that the lawmakers crack down on Hamas after one of their colleagues was killed in a shootout.

The P.A. said it would no longer permit military-style parades on the streets or permit militant groups to carry arms in public following the deaths of 21 Palestinians in an explosion in Gaza, caused by the mishandling of explosives during a Hamas event.

Chief P.A. negotiator Saeb Erekat said not only does the lawlessness bother the Israelis but it also bothers the Palestinians.

"We hope that we can sustain the rule of law, public order," Erekat said in an interview on Israeli radio.

"The most important thing is to show results on ground," Erekat said. "The Palestinians want to see law and order."

Prisoner release

Erekat is due to meet with Sharon's advisor Dov Weisglass on Friday to prepare for the summit next week, media reports said.

Erekat said he believed the purpose of the Sharon-Abbas summit was to revive the post-disengagement peace process and the road map.

One of the issues on the agenda will be the release of Palestinian security prisoners from Israeli jails, Erekat said. The P.A. has approached Israel to allow the release of Ahmed Saadat and Fuad Shubaki, both of whom are being held in a Jericho jail under international supervision.

Saadat, Secretary-General of the Palestinian Front for the Liberation of Palestine, is accused of involvement in the assassination of Israeli Tourism Minister Rechavam Zeevi.

Shubaki, a former aide to the late P.A. Chairman Yasser Arafat, is believed to be behind the attempted smuggling of weapons from Iran to the P.A. on the Karine A, a ship the Israelis intercepted at sea.

Gissin said the criteria for the release of Palestinian prisoners had been established by the government - meaning that no Palestinians with "blood on their hands" - involved in the killing or wounding of Israelis - would be freed.

Postpone elections

In related news, the Egyptian government may propose the postponement P.A. parliamentary elections if Hamas makes gains in the next round of municipal elections, the Israeli daily Ha'aretz reported on Thursday. A postponement would give the P.A. more time to strengthen its position.

The elections, scheduled for January 20, have already been postponed once.

Israel said it would not help the P.A. facilitate the elections if Hamas is allowed to field candidates while maintaining its weapons. But Gissin said the elections are an "internal Palestinian affair."

Erekat said any postponement of the elections would be a "strategic mistake," and he urged Israel not to interfere. In fact, Erekat called on "everyone" to help the Palestinians carry out the elections.

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