Road map talks fail to yield accord
Meetings here between the prime minister's bureau chief Dov Weisglass and U.S. administration officials on the road map, ended without any agreements yesterday. However, an understanding was reached that the U.S. will consider Israeli reservations about the proposed framework for reaching peace with the Palestinians.
WASHINGTON - Meetings here between the prime minister's bureau chief Dov Weisglass and U.S. administration officials on the road map, ended without any agreements yesterday. However, an understanding was reached that the U.S. will consider Israeli reservations about the proposed framework for reaching peace with the Palestinians.
Despite the fact that the U.S. has not officially commented on Israel's remarks on the road map, recent declarations indicate that some of the Israeli requests are not acceptable to Washington.
The most prominent of these concerns the status of the "Saudi plan" for a future peace process. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said yesterday that "We hope that both parties will use this road map as a way of reaching the vision that the president laid out in his speech of June 24 of last year, and that also is the vision that was laid out by the Arab League nations, following the Saudi initiative."
This was the first time the Bush administration has mentioned the Saudi plan as a source of authority for the road map, alongside the road map, in complete opposition to the Israeli position.
Weisglass met a senior Bush administration delegation that included National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Powell, and senior representatives of the Defense Department, the Treasury Department, the office of Vice President Dick Cheney and the National Security Council.
The Weisglass reservations this week include a comment that Israel would like the road map to be a transparent reflection of President Bush's vision and not relate to the Saudi plan adopted by the Arab League. Powell's comments yesterday connote that this position is unacceptable to the U.S.
In a statement after his Washington talks, Weisglass said: "I am sure the U.S. will seriously consider our position when the process occurs." Weisglass said that Israel will be given another opportunity to respond to the plan after it is officially submitted to all parties.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said "The president said he would be glad to receive comments from the parties," noting that the administration will seriously consider them. Nonetheless, Powell emphasized yesterday that the road map submitted to the sides would be the version known as "the December 20 draft," with which both sides are already familiar.
Fleischer said that the argument going on in the Palestinian Authority concerning Mahmoud Abbas's new cabinet is a test of the strength of the reforms "or how much Palestinian Authority chair Yasser Arafat will succeed in sticking to his old ways." Fleischer called Arafat an "obstacle to peace."
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said last night he would not miss another opportunity to make peace with the Palestinians. Addressing the Likud party at a pre-holiday toast, he said, "We will decide which way we go, but I have no intention of missing this opportunity. If we see that the Palestinian partner learned the lesson and takes serious action against terror, it will be possible to move forward faster than you think." Aluf Benn adds: Jerusalem diplomatic sources said yesterday that the U.S. may demand Israel dismantle illegal outposts in the West Bank. The administration will not accept recent Defense Ministry ideas to "launder" some outposts and declare them legal in retrospect, the sources said. Washington will expect Israel to stick to the list of outposts published during previous defense minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer's tenure.
U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Kurtzer met yesterday with Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom and told him that the road map is not a peace plan, but a framework designed to bring Israel and the Palestinians to renew the process.
Shalom said Israel will not agree to a duplicitous process in which "there is shooting during the day and negotiations at night," which has toppled a number of Israeli governments. He also explained to Kurtzer that Israel's demand that the Palestinians give up the "right of return" is in exchange for an earlier declaration of a Palestinian state.