Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Defense officials skeptical on final-status deal with PA

Defense officials expressed skepticism Tuesday that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's negotiating team could agree with the Palestinians on fundamental final-status issues ahead of the US-sponsored peace conference next month. Olmert is set to host Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday in his succa.
The officials said that with Shas and Israel Beiteinu in the coalition, Olmert had little leeway in negotiating with the Palestinians and would be forced to use vague language in the declaration of principles to be presented at the conference. One example had to do with the final borders of a future Palestinian state.
"The declaration will not be able to say: 'The borders will be the pre-1967 lines,'" a defense official said. "But instead, it will have to say something like: 'In accordance with' or 'based on' the pre-1967 border."
Defense Minister Ehud Barak has appointed the head of the Defense Ministry's Diplomatic-Military Bureau, Amos Gilad, as his representative at the talks with the Palestinians.
Officials close to Barak and Gilad said Tuesday it was unlikely anything concrete would come from the talks and that it was important to begin lowering expectations ahead of the international conference so it would not trigger a third intifada if it failed.
"We need to be realistic and realize that Abbas will have extreme difficulty in delivering on any of his commitments," a defense official involved in the talks told The Jerusalem Post. "There is also a real chance that the Palestinians will pull out of the [international] summit even before it takes place due to Israel's refusal to commit itself on final-status issues."
A senior defense official said Barak had approved an IDF plan, first reported last week in the Post, to shut down all of the crossings into the Gaza Strip and "disconnect" from the territory, if and when the violence emanating from there escalates.
The plan calls for the completion of the disengagement that started in 2005 with the evacuation of the Gaza Strip settlements, including the closure of all crossings into Israel and the transfer of all of Israel's responsibilities toward the Strip to Egypt.
"There is no other solution for the Gaza Strip," a defense official said. "Abbas has no control over the territory, and there is no choice but to completely cut it off from Israel."
Olmert will host Abbas in his succa at the prime minister's residence in Jerusalem at noon on Wednesday. The meeting was to have taken place on Tuesday, but was pushed off a day due to what officials in the Prime Minister's Office described as technical reasons.
This will be the fifth meeting between the two men since Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip in June. They will meet one-on-one and discuss what they want to be included in the statement of principles for the November peace conference, which is scheduled to take place in Annapolis, Maryland.
Ahead of the meeting, Olmert held consultations on Tuesday night with Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.
After Wednesday's meeting, Olmert and Abbas will give orders to negotiating teams, which will hold the first of a series of meetings on a joint statement to be presented to the November gathering.
Along with Gilad, the Israeli negotiating team consists of the prime minister's political adviser, Shalom Turgeman; Olmert's bureau chief Yoram Turbowicz; and Foreign Ministry Director-General Aharon Abramovitch.
But recent contacts, including those between Olmert and Abbas and at the foreign minister level, have revealed significant differences of approach between the sides.
Israel is seeking a general statement of principles, leaving the details to be thrashed out in bilateral negotiations after the gathering. However, The Palestinians are pressing for the core issues, such as borders, Jerusalem and refugees, to be included in the joint statement along with a timetable for implementation.

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