Sunday, June 26, 2005

Sharon-Abbas summit ends in deadlock

I'm not saying I'm surprised, but I am still disappointed. Every talk boils down to how the Palestinians have failed to curb violence despite what the Israelis may have done. What really amazes me is how Sharon is increasingly going against what the US wants - in this case, Secretary Rice had pressed for substantive agreements but to no avail. History repeats itself but it doesn't look like the US governments ever learn - I have a feeling that our blind support for Israel will come to haunt us one day just as some of our other past actions have....

From The Guardian:

A rare meeting between Ariel Sharon and the Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, ended in deadlock yesterday after the Israeli prime minister said there could be no political progress, or even gestures, "so long as terrorism continues".

The Palestinians described the first meeting of the two men since February's ceasefire declaration as "difficult" after the Israeli prime minister said "this is not the time for concessions" following a series of attacks by armed Palestinian factions that have killed two people, and a failed attempt to send a female suicide bomber to blow up an Israeli hospital.

At the beginning of the talks, a microphone picked up Mr Sharon telling Mr Abbas: "We are still taking casualties."

Mr Abbas appealed for practical concessions that would bolster his support among Palestinians increasingly sceptical about the real intent of Israel's withdrawal from Gaza this summer and the value of cooperation with Mr Sharon.

He also called for Israel to fulfil a commitment made in February to withdraw from five Palestinian cities, to lift roadblocks that restrict travel through the West Bank and to release thousands of Palestinian prisoners.

The Palestinian leader also appealed for a return to peace negotiations shortly after Israel completes its Gaza withdrawal, and demanded an end to the continued expansion of Jewish settlements.

Mr Sharon said he is prepared to hand over control of two Palestinian towns, Bethlehem and Qalqilya, to release some prisoners and to grant an additional 39,000 permits for Palestinians to work or trade in Israel in an effort to ease economic hardship. Israel also said the international airport and sea port in the Gaza strip might be permitted to reopen once Jewish settlers had left.

But Mr Sharon's spokesman, Raanan Gissin, said it was all conditional on the Palestinian leadership doing more to "end terror", including disarming armed groups.

"None of this can be accomplished as long as terrorism continues to run rampant, as long as the Palestinian Authority does not take the steps necessary to stop terrorism," Mr Gissin said. "It is not only Abu Mazen [Mr Abbas] who has problems. If the public does not support [Mr Sharon's] plan, the whole thing will fail."

Mr Sharon said continuing Palestinian attacks, led by Islamic Jihad, are helping to weaken public support for the Gaza pullout.

The Palestinian prime minister, Ahmed Qureia, who also attended the talks, said the meeting achieved little."There were no positive answers to the issues we raised," he said.

Hours before the summit Israeli forces arrested 52 Islamic Jihad activists in its first big sweep against the organisation since the ceasefire declaration.

Israel's defence minister, Shaul Mofaz, said the military would no longer show "restraint" toward the armed Islamist group because the Palestinian Authority had been "ineffectual" in confronting it.

"When we found out that the Islamic Jihad was carrying out acts of terror and wasn't adhering to the truce ... then there was no choice but to take resolute action," he said.

But Mr Abbas's national security adviser, Jibril Rajoub, said Mr Sharon's unwillingness to make further concessions was complicating the Palestinian Authority's attempts to rein in the armed factions. "Without help, without cooperation from the Israeli side, without the Israeli side treating him as a partner, as a neighbour, I do not think [Mr Abbas] can do anything," he said.

Israel is demanding that Islamic Jihad, Hamas and similar groups be confronted and disarmed. Mr Abbas has sought to draw them into the political process by offering the prospect of electoral legitimacy in return for abandoning the armed struggle.