Abbas, Sharon Hold ‘Stormy’ Meeting
Abbas, Sharon Hold ‘Stormy’ Meeting, Produce No ‘Concrete’ Results on Ground
The Palestine National Authority (PNA) said the meeting between Prime Minister Mahmud Abbas and his Israeli counterpart Ariel Sharon was “useful,” but will produce “no concrete and immediate results on the ground.”
Abbas briefed President Yasser Arafat on his two-hour meeting with Sharon in Jerusalem Sunday. Abbas met Sharon at his Jerusalem residence.
During their meeting, Abbas asked Sharon to lift the siege imposed on Arafat as well as easing travel conditions for Palestinians in general. Sharon’s office said Israel would weigh removing some checkpoints, but made no mention of Arafat.
“The main topic was the siege on Arafat. Abu Mazen (Abbas' nom-de-guerre) and his team told Sharon and the Israelis that any talk about moving ahead the situation on the ground without lifting the siege would be useless,” a Palestinian source close to Abbas told AFP.
However, Israel had agreed to "study seriously” an end to the siege of Arafat, the source added.
But Sharon’s aide Raanan Gissin said the Israelis rejected a Palestinian appeal to allow freedom of movement for Arafat, Reuters reported.
The two sides also agreed to form a joint committee, which would consider the numbers of Palestinian prisoners who should be released from the jails of the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF), Palestinian information minister Nabil Amre said.
“The most positive thing that we agreed about was that the number of prisoners which must be released will be discussed in a joint committee,” the minister told reporters after briefing President Arafat on the talks, which Amre also attended.
It is understood that Palestinian detainees minister Hisham Abdelrazeq and Avi Dichter, the head of Israel’s Shin Bet intelligence agency, will sit on the committee, reportedly on Wednesday.
“It was a useful meeting and I hope that we will see good results in the coming period,” Amre said.
The Palestinian source told AFP the two sides had clashed on the prisoners issue.
“The Israelis were talking about lists and categories and the Palestinians refused that and said any discussion on prisoner releases should be (between) the two sides,” he said.
The two sides also discussed Palestinian demands for further IOF withdrawals from the West Bank after pullbacks in the Gaza Strip and Bethlehem in recent weeks as well as a removal of IOF checkpoints and roadblocks.
“We discussed about the checkpoints and cities and we declared that we are ready to control any city which Israel withdraws from,” said Amre.
The PNA Minister of State for Security Affairs Mohammed Dahlan and Israeli “defense” minister Shaul Mofaz are expected to discuss the withdrawals after Dahlan’s return from a trip to Washington with Abbas who is to meet US President George W. Bush on Friday.
Mofaz told a weekly cabinet meeting ahead of the Abbas-Sharon talks that there had been a downturn in violence since a security agreement between the two sides three weeks ago, which led to the pullback of IOF troops from the Gaza Strip and Bethlehem.
“He (Mofaz) pointed out that on the ground, the downward trend in the number of terrorist attacks and warnings is continuing. Incitement in the Palestinian media has similarly declined,” said a cabinet communique.
However, Arafat’s media adviser Nabil Abu Rudainah expected “no concrete and immediate results on the ground” following the meeting of the two premiers, though it was “important and useful.”
“There must be international pressure to implement the roadmap,” he stressed.
Similarly the Palestinian lawmaker and former chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said the PNA delegation called the meeting "a disappointment” because action was delayed until after the meetings of Abbas and Sharon in Washington, Reuters reported.
Erekat told Al-Jazeera satellite TV station that four meetings between Abbas and Sharon have been fruitless due to Israeli intransigence and fragmental approach to the implementation of the “roadmap” plan, which was drafted and adopted by the Quartet of the UN, US, EU and Russia.
PM Abbas should push the US Administration during his Friday meeting with Bush, who sponsors the “roadmap,” to adopt a “comprehensive” implementation plan, with binding timetables, implementation mechanisms and international monitors, Erekat said.
Nabil Amre, speaking in Ramallah, appealed to the US government for help in winning Israeli implementation of the plan.
“We need all the support from our friends the Americans,” Amre said.
The Palestinian source, quoted by AFP, said on Abbas-Sharon fourth meeting since the PNA premier assumed his responsibilities and the second since the Hudna (truce) was declared: “It was a difficult meeting. At many points they screamed at each other,” he said.
Another Palestinian source confirmed to the Al-Ayyam daily that the meeting was dominated by “tension.”