The Israeli government of today is not prepared to shoot and
talk like the Israeli government in the early days after
Oslo. Top Israeli officials insisted that they would not hand
over security control of five West Bank cities to the
Palestinian Authority unless there is a complete cessation of
mortar fire into the settlements of Gaza.
On Monday there was a meeting between Defense Minister Shaul
Mofaz and Mohammed Dahlan, considered one of Palestinian
President Mahmoud Abbas' closest advisers. The original
agenda of the meeting was to discuss the transfer Ramallah,
Bethlehem, Jericho, Tul Karm and Qalqilyah to the
Palestinians as early as this week. But in response to mortar
fire in Gaza, Mofaz demanded that the PA take more aggressive
action against the terrorist infrastructure.
Aharon Ze'evi, the head of Military Intelligence, said on
Tuesday that Hamas is the key to continued calm but he
believes that they and Hizbullah are adamantly opposed to a
permanent halt in Palestinian attacks.
"Everything can cause a break in the calm," Ze'evi told the
Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.
"The axis of evil — which includes the Hizbullah, Hamas
and al-Qaida organizations supported by Iran —
adamantly opposes calm, and Hamas and Hizbullah are working
together to destroy the cease-fire," he said. Ze'evi added
that Palestinians were talking only about establishing
"calm," rather than a more stable cease-fire.
Mofaz listed several points that must be met, including:
* A total halt to all terror in Gaza, as a condition for
proceeding on other fronts; * A commitment by all the terror
groups to the PA that they have ceased terror activity,
including small groups; * A thorough PA investigation into
the mortar fire and the suicide bombing two weeks ago at
Karni junction; * More deployment of Palestinian troops in
southern Gaza and a Palestinian campaign against the
Dahlan demanded the immediate opening of the Erez, Karni and
Rafah crossings in Gaza, and Mofaz agreed to open Erez and
Rafah. Thousands of Palestinians passed through Rafah on
Tuesday. The Rafah crossing is the main gateway in and out of
the Gaza Strip for Palestinian travelers. It was closed
December 12, the day a Palestinian attack killed several
Israeli soldiers at a nearby outpost. Israel wants a detailed
security plan from the PA before opening Karni.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said yesterday that
there cannot be peace in the Middle East unless the
Palestinians attain a state that satisfies their aspirations.
Israel also must recognize that the Palestinian state, which
she said was "within our grasp," must be viable and
contiguous. Rice is to visit Israel and the West Bank for one
day of talks next Monday. During her 24-hour trip, Rice is
expected to split her time between meetings with the Israeli
and PA leadership.
According to a report in The Jerusalem Post, US
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is considering appointing
a permanent representative in the area to oversee and prod
along negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian
Rice's predecessor, Colin Powell, sent Anthony Zinni as a
special envoy in November 2001, but he left after only five
months because constant terror attacks made his job
One US official said that Rice will tell both the PA and
Israel that the ultimate goal is not only for the PA security
officials to instill law and order into the territories, but
also for the terrorist infrastructure to be torn down.
Rice is also expected to discuss the disengagement plan with
Sharon, and the possibility of coordinating certain parts of
it with the PA. Sharon now seems ready to make the
Palestinians part of the process. However the timing and the
scope of the withdrawal will not be discussed with the PA.
Among the issues Sharon has signaled a willingness to discuss
are the handing over of the assets in the settlements, as
well as an orderly handing over of security control.
Diplomatic officials said intense discussions with
international bodies about the final dispensation of the
assets left behind — the homes, agricultural facilities
and buildings — have not yet begun, and no decisions
have yet been made. The only thing that seems certain is that
the synagogues will be dismantled to prevent their
One key issue for the Palestinians right now is prisoner
release. There were reports that the Palestinians would be
demanding the release of all the estimated 8,000 Palestinians
held by Israel, but there is little chance that Israel will
Sources said that so far the focus has been on prisoners in
jail since before Oslo, aged and ailing prisoners and those
who have already served at least two-thirds of their
sentences. The Palestinians also want the release of what
they call political prisoners, like senior activists from
Fatah and other organizations, as well as administrative
detainees and people sentenced to short prison terms.
On Wednesday, Sharon is planning to convene the inner
security cabinet to confirm goodwill gestures to the
Palestinians that the interministerial committee will approve
later in the week.
Israeli officials said the issue of illegal outposts all over
the West Bank will be cleared up by a report written by Talia
Sasson for the Prime Minister's Office that is due out
shortly. She has been at work on the issue since August.
Palestinians continued firing mortar shells at Gaza
settlements on Tuesday. Five mortar shells hit settlements
and damaged several vehicles. On Monday terrorists fired
seven mortar shells at Gaza settlements, causing heavy damage
to a building. Hamas claimed responsibility for the
Hamas said it was retaliating for the death of a 10-year-old
school girl in the Rafah refugee camp on Monday. The IDF said
the girl was likely killed by Palestinian pilgrims shooting
into the air upon returning from Mecca.
Hamas threatened further retaliation "if the crimes
continue." The Israeli military said that the terror group
was trying to set a pattern in which it will be "understood"
that it can retaliate for perceived Israeli acts of violence,
even within the framework of a cease-fire.
Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz told Palestinian Authority
adviser Mohammed Dahlan during a meeting Monday night that
such an understanding was unacceptable.