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THIS WEEK 4-2-2005

The Goal of Sharm El-Sheik Summit - Crossing The Current Crevasse To The Roadmap

Current Phase - 'Pay As You Go On Installment Plan'

Israeli Officials: 'Palestinian President Abbas Orders His Security Apparatus To Behave Like U.N. Observers Toward The Terrorists!'

Sharm El Sheik

Israel's Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and newly-elected President Mahmoud Abbas are about to meet at the invitation of Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheik. Although both sides have started pulling back from the four and a half years of bloodshed and violence: they are at odds over the scope of concessions in this phase. About to make her entrance on the new Middle East stage is the new U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

A Sharon-Abbas summit hosted by Mubarak would be leader of the Arab world with Condoleezza Rice about to weigh in. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is, more likely than not, embarking on a new course.Although terror attacks continue, there has been a dramatic drop in the Palestinian violence. The residents of Sderot are no longer being shelled by Qassam rockets from Gaza. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, true to his word, has jettisoned Yasser Arafat's use of terrorism as an instrument of policy. However, IDF intelligence says the Palestinian security forces in the Gaza Strip have not launched a counter-terror campaign. As one Israeli source puts it: 'Abbas has ordered his thousands of security personnel to behave more like U.N. observers, keeping an eye on things but not much more than that'. Reportedly, Palestinian policemen, who caught terrorists about to launch Qassam rockets, simply shooed them off with their Qassams. This obviously raises eyebrows on the Israeli side; but Israeli officials say quietly that Abbas is waiting for an Israeli payoff from Sharon at the summit, in return for extending the de facto cease-fire. It is also naive to believe that Abbas and Sharon would see eye to eye on concessions in this phase. Enter U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, with full Bush backing; look for Dr. Rice to step in as arbitrator to help the two leaders bridge the gap and both Sharon and Abbas apparently want to. It's a pay as you go process, on the installment plan. If Palestinian towns cease being bases for terror attacks, Israel will hand them back (for a second time).

Condoleezza Rice

The current phase is the run-up to negotiations on the Roadmap for a final peace settlement between Israel and the Palestinians. If U.S. President George W. Bush is now pushing for a Palestinian state living at peace with Israel, then it follows that the Rice mission will be to keep the ball rolling toward the Roadmap. This means a halt to the violence, and Sharon has made clear he will not 'recycle Oslo' by agreeing to negotiate under terrorism. The flip side of the coin is that Abbas must get enough in return to persuade Palestinian public opinion to call off the terrorism. This has the makings of a package deal. With the collapse of credibility on both the Palestinian and Israeli streets, it is vital to rebuild enough public support at least to reach the Roadmap.And make no mistake, the give and take during the current interim phase will be a picnic compared to what lies ahead in the Roadmap. Even if the Palestinian security personnel are acting like 'U.N. observers', the first phase of the Roadmap stipulates:'Rebuilt and refocused (Palestinian Authority) security apparatus begins sustained, targeted and effective operations aimed at confronting all those engaged in terror and dismantlement of terrorist capabilities and infrastructure. This includes commencing confiscation of illegal weapons and consolidation of security authority, free of association with terror and corruption'.

Sharon & Abbas

This will likely be Sharon's anchor; no Roadmap negotiations under fire and the dismantling of the terror groups; to leave those groups in place would pose the potential threat of FUTURE terrorism. Look for both leaders to do what it takes to cross over the current crevasse. Abbas can count on Egypt's Mubarak and Jordan's King Abdullah to help sell a deal to the Palestinians. George Bush has also reiterated that Sharon's Gaza-Samaria disengagement is just the first milestone on the Roadmap; there's more to come if the Palestinians halt the terrorism.The current developments come against the backdrop of the international community clamoring for a solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. What bothers some Israeli officials is this - say Abbas cajoles Hamas, Islamic Jihad into a cease-fire without confiscating their weapons etc. Will Israel then be pressured to accept this as good enough?

David Essing

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