Peres hopes PA border solution imminent
Vice Premier Shimon Peres said he hoped the issue of supervision at the Gaza-Egypt border crossing would be resolved quickly.
Peres made his remarks on Friday after a meeting with chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat in Tel Aviv.
Israel and the Palestinian Authority are considering a proposal by Egypt and the World Bank suggesting that the PA and Egypt jointly operate the crossing from Rafah into the Sinai peninsula.
"I don't think we are far apart," Erekat said after the meeting. "I think we are getting closer."
The proposal calls for European observers to be deployed at the border, as well as cameras and other surveillance systems that would allow Israel to monitor the human traffic crossing the border. According to a source in Jerusalem, Israel has not yet taken a position on the proposal.
Israel is concerned that, if unsupervised, the border will become a major access point for terrorists to infiltrate into Gaza, as well as for weapons-smuggling.
In the first days after Israel's pullout from Gaza, the border was overrun by thousands of Palestinians and Egyptians, but Palestinian and Egyptian border guards have since restored control. The Palestinians have said they would only reopen Rafah for good after reaching agreement with Israel on security and customs arrangements.
Erekat said several previous meetings yielded progress, and he hoped the border could reopen in time for Eid el-Fitr, a major Muslim holiday at the beginning of November. He said Israel had noted the Palestinian request, but not promised to aim for that target date.
Listing the points of dispute, Erekat said: "There is the issue of goods leaving Rafah from Gaza, the issue of the security procedures on the passages, the role of the third party. All the issues are doable."
Peres also said he favored a rail link as the means of connecting the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.
Meanwhile, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz plans to visit Egypt later this month, according to Israeli and Palestinian officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Both Peres and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon support the deployment of third-party observers at Rafah, to supervise border traffic and to establish a precedent for operation of the planned Palestinian port in Gaza. However, the cabinet has previously rejected third-party involvement.
Sharon adviser Dov Weissglas will next week continue his efforts to resolve a disagreement between Peres and Mofaz over who will negotiate with the PA and international bodies on issues related to the Gaza Strip, beginning with the operation of the crossings at Rafah and between Gaza and Israel.
The disagreement focuses on who will direct contacts with James Wolfensohn, the representative of the Quartet of Middle East peace brokers.
Abbas visits Jordan
Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas arrived Friday in Jordan for talks with King Abdullah II, the head of the Palestinian mission in Amman said.
Abbas' visit to Jordan is the first leg of a journey that will take him to Egypt, France and Spain before he travels to Washington for talks with U.S. President George W. Bush on Thursday.
Ata Kheiry, head of the Palestinian mission in Amman, said Abbas and the king were to discuss the situation in the Palestinian territories.
Abbas and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon were to have met last Monday, but the session was canceled for lack of progress on the removal of some IDF troops from the West Bank and the release of Palestinian prisoners. Those talks are planned but not scheduled.