Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority Chairman and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) met Monday in Jerusalem along with their negotiating teams for the first time in almost two months.
US Secretary of State Rice has been to the region twice on shuttle diplomacy tours during that time. Both trips were designed to pressure Israel into concessions while reminding the PA that the US cannot force the Jewish State into easing restrictions with rockets flying overhead and suicide bombers murdering civilians.
US President George W. Bush has instructed Secretary Rice to come up with a signed agreement between Israel and the PA this year, preferably before next month’s 60th anniversary celebrations marking the re-establishment of the Jewish State. President Bush plans to attend the events but is hoping for some type of declaration of an accord between the two sides at that time.
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, chief negotiator for Israel, met together with her team with their counterparts, veteran PA negotiator Ahmed Qureia (Abu Ala) and his team to discuss a list of issues, among them the “red line” items connected with the final status of Jerusalem.
Shin Bet Chief Warns ‘Good Will’ Gestures Risk Israelis
The latest round of “good will gestures” by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to prop up the government of Palestinian Authority Chairman and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) are endangering the lives of Israel’s citizens, says Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin.
The head of Israel’s domestic security agency told Cabinet ministers on Sunday that it is not wise to remove roadblocks or security checkpoints before completing the Judea and Samaria security barrier. Secretary of State Rice has insisted that Israel ease restrictions. But Diskin said they now constitute a real danger to Israeli citizens.
However, Defense Minister Ehud Barak (Labor) defended his decision to approve the removal of roadblocks and checkpoints before the barrier’s completion. He said, "We must not help them claim that the negotiations will fail because we have not made enough gestures."
Only 63 percent of the barrier’s planned 790-kilometer route has been built thus far, with approximately 300 kilometers yet to go. The project is not expected to be completed until 2010.
Much of the budget for construction of the barrier has been tied up in demolishing the structure, moving it slightly and rebuilding it in areas where the High Court of Justice ruled that it must be moved to accommodate local Arabs.
Sixty kilometers of the barrier have been moved at a cost of approximately NIS 600 million. The court has yet to rule on the status of another 100 kilometers.