Israel wants to resume the activity of the joint committees with the Palestinian Authority, senior political sources said over the weekend. The working committees were decided on at the Sharm el-Sheikh summit more than two months ago, but ceased operating a short while later.
The head of the Israeli negotiating team, the prime minister's adviser Dov Weissglas, is scheduled to meet Sunday or Monday with his Palestinian counterpart, Saeb Erekat, to discuss resuming talks.
The joint committees were to deal with security procedures and Israeli gestures, the transfer of West Bank cities to the Palestinians, the release of Palestinian prisoners, "legitimizing" wanted operatives and preventing incitement. Some never got off the ground, and some were suspended after little activity.
In addition to these, there are supposed to be joint economic committees to coordinate the disengagement, under Vice Premier Shimon Peres and the PA's Mohammed Dahlan. The Palestinians have not yet agreed to the structure of the disengagement committees Israel is proposing, and it's not clear yet how the disengagement will be coordinated.
Israel's agreement to resume negotiations with the PA is one of the results of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's meeting last week with U.S. President George W. Bush. The U.S. demanded that Israel work to bolster the PA chairman, Mahmoud Abbas, and that the PA agree to coordinate the disengagement from the Gaza Strip and northern Samaria.
Palestinian Finance Minister Salam Fayad went to Washington for a briefing following Sharon's visit, and this Tuesday the Bush administration's envoys, Elliott Abrams and David Welch, will be arriving in the region to assess Abbas' political status and find ways to shore up his regime. The envoys will meet separately with Abbas and Sharon, as well as other senior officials on both sides.
Abrams and Welch will also convene in Jerusalem the representatives of the Quartet to ratify the appointment of outgoing World Bank chief James Wolfensohn as special envoy for Palestinian economic development. Peres was behind creating the appointment of an economic coordinator, and expressed great satisfaction at the choice of Wolfensohn, who has been accompanying the peace process for years.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met with Weissglas in Washington on Wednesday and informed him of the appointment. She requested that Israel assist Wolfensohn in his mission.
Sharon will convene a large meeting Sunday to discuss preparations for the disengagement. The director general of the Prime Minister's Office, Ilan Cohen, will present the progress in ministries to find temporary and permanent housing for the evacuated settlers. The plan to transfer Gush Katif settlements to Nitzanim will also be raised at the meeting.
Peres, who is visiting Paris, will meet Monday with French President Jacques Chirac, and discuss the development of Gaza after disengagement and the threats posed by Hezbollah and Iran.
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