Israelis, Palestinians to make parallel pledges on ending attacks

By Knight Ridder Newspapers KRT
February 10, 2005

Israelis and Palestinians will declare an end to attacks on each other during a summit Tuesday at the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheik, although officials said on Monday that the separate declarations by each side would fall short of a formal cease-fire to end more than four years of fighting.

The pledges, which will be made during a summit meeting of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, make public and explicit their commitment to end the conflict. The leaders’ meeting is the first since Abbas won election a month ago following the death of longtime Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in November.

The form of the announcements _ parallel statements rather than a joint declaration _ underscores the difficulty of reaching peace. Abbas lacks control over militant groups responsible for most attacks on Israel, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

Israel will declare an end to offensive Israeli military actions, including the search for wanted men, but the declaration is to be conditional on a cessation of Palestinian offensive actions, including production of Kassam rockets, weapons smuggling and incitement. This is largely a restatement of current Israeli policy.

“How can you have a cease-fire when one side can’t even enforce it?” said a senior Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat also shied away from the term cease-fire. “All I can say at this stage is that Palestinians are committed to stopping violence against Israelis anywhere and Israelis will stop violence against Palestinians anywhere, but the details will be discussed in a committee,” he told Knight Ridder.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, visiting the West Bank city of Ramallah Monday, lauded what she called “the most promising moment for progress between Palestinians and Israelis in recent years” and announced the appointment of a senior U.S. coordinator to cement a cease-fire between the sides.

Rice’s naming of the official, Army Lt. Gen. William E. Ward, represents a modest increase in U.S. involvement in the Middle East conflict at a moment of diplomatic opportunity.

Ward’s job will be to help create conditions for a durable peace, primarily by building up Palestinian security forces that can stop terrorist attacks on Israel.

But Rice said the general would not be involved in political negotiations over a future Palestinian state _ leaving that up to the two sides, not the United States, to determine.

The secretary of state ended a two-day visit to Israel and the West Bank with an exceptionally hopeful assessment of the prospects for peace in the aftermath of Abbas’ election a month ago, and tentative steps he and Sharon have taken since then.

“I depart the region confident of the success of the meeting tomorrow” in Egypt, Rice said at airport press conference outside Tel Aviv, after meeting Abbas on Monday at Palestinian Authority headquarters in Ramallah.

Rice said Sharon and Abbas have accepted invitations she brought from President Bush to meet him in the United States this spring.

Posted to the web by Ryan Norris

Knight Ridder Newspapers KRT

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