Sunday, March 30, 2008

Barak Prepares Security Concessions for Rice

Hana Levi Julian

Israeli officials are planning additional “gestures” to ease restrictions on Palestinian Authority Arabs, according to Army Radio. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Defense Minister Ehud Barak will discuss the plans with United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Sunday. The US Secretary of State arrived at Ben Gurion International Airport Saturday evening in another attempt to push the pace on talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Rice said Saturday that one of her goals in her current trip to the region was to convince Israel to ease travel for PA Arabs in Judea and Samaria.

Security officials said Israel will remove dozens of roadblocks in Judea and Samaria and will remove one or two checkpoints as well. PA Arabs will be granted free access to the Dead Sea, as the checkpoint between Jericho and the sea, in place since 2000, is removed. Senior PA businessmen will be granted reduced travel restrictions, and thousands more PA Arabs will be granted permits allowing them to work for Israeli employers.

PA police stations will also be established in mid-sized villages in Area B, under Israeli security control and PA administrative control.

Rice met with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert Saturday night over dinner to discuss the main issues on which she plans to focus this time around.

She has plans to discuss ways to keep other Arab nations involved in the Israel-PA negotiating process, according to a statement by the US State Department.

Contrary to her usual modus operandi, Rice will meet together in a three-way parlay with Defense Minister Ehud Barak and PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, and then do the same with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni (Israel’s chief negotiator) and chief PA negotiator Ahmed Qureia.

Rice will also eschew the traditional visit to PA Chairman and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas’s headquarters in Ramallah this time around due to her greeting by an angry mob during her last visit. Sources said Rice will meet elsewhere with Abbas at an undisclosed location.

Following her meetings with Israeli and PA officials Rice will travel to Jordan to meet with King Abdullah II, where according to a statement by the US Department of State, she will also be discussing “the political situation in Lebanon, stability in Iraq and other regional developments.”

Arutz Sheva blogger Michael Freund, a former official in the government of Binyamin Netanyahu, criticizes the US for focusing on hammering out an unrealistic political deal between Israel and the PA instead of focusing on the upcoming Middle East arms race. "There is something obsessive about the manner in which the Bush Administration is devoting so much time and resources to trying to create a Palestinian state," Freund writes. "A direct result of this mindset is that other, far more important issues, such as Iran's drive toward nuclear weapons and the nuclearization of the Middle East, are not getting the attention that they deserve... This is a dangerous development, and warrants a major 're-think' in Washington's entire approach to the region."

Ezra HaLevi and Maayana Miskin contributed to this report

No comments: