Prime Minister Ariel Sharon will meet with U.S. President George W. Bush at the White House on July 29. The meeting had been scheduled for early September, but the American administration asked for it to be held on the eve of Bush's departure for his summer holiday on August 1.

Bringing the visit forward will allow the U.S. administration to keep a close eye on the political process between Israel and the Palestinians, in an effort to prevent its collapse.

The Americans are also closely following the power struggle in the Palestinian Authority between PA Chairman Yasser Arafat and Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, and they are asking Israel to takes steps to make things easier for Abbas and boost his status among the Palestinian public.

Sharon, for his part, leaves today on a four-day visit to Britain and Norway - evidence of the improvement in the prime minister's international standing in the wake of Israel's acceptance of the road map and progress in talks with Abbas.

Sharon is seeking a meeting with Abbas on Thursday, following his return from London. Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz passed on Sharon's invitation to his Palestinian counterpart, Mohammed Dahlan, during their meeting last Thursday. Dahlan responded positively, but political sources in Jerusalem say that a meeting has yet to be scheduled.

Sharon intends informing Abbas of Israel's intention to up the number of Palestinian prisoners to be released. Israeli political sources say there is consensus among all the professional elements on the need for Israel to demonstrate more generosity with regard to the prisoner release issue. The U.S. has also asked Israel to show more flexibility on the matter.

The defense establishment suggests releasing Hamas prisoners who belong to the organization's civilian wing and were not involved in terror attacks. These individuals were not included on the original list prepared by the Shin Bet security service.

In comments published yesterday, Sharon urged European leaders to cut off ties with Arafat, while a key Sharon aide said Israel would consider deporting the PA chairman if he continued trying to "scuttle the peace process."

A senior Palestinian official said it was Sharon's "incitement" against Arafat that endangered peace moves.

Sharon was quoted by Britain's Daily Telegraph newspaper as saying European officials were making "a major mistake" by maintaining links with Arafat. Yesterday, a British parliamentary delegation visited Arafat at his headquarters in the West Bank town of Ramallah.

Meanwhile, U.S. special envoy John Wolf, who is overseeing implementation of the road map peace plan, wants a 60-strong team of monitors, including a significant security force, rather than the 10-12 observers originally planned. Wolf presented his plan to Israeli officials this weekend, before leaving for meetings in Washington. He will return to Jerusalem in midweek.

Wolf wants a larger team so that he can move freely through the area and post monitors at points of friction, instead of making do with meetings with Israeli and Palestinian Authority officials.

Last week, and without prior coordination, Wolf made a tour of the Netzarim region in the Gaza Strip to get a close look at the new security arrangements in place there.

Israeli officials, meanwhile, are at odds over Wolf's activities here. During a meeting at the Prime Minister's Bureau last week, a number of the participants expressed concerns and reservations about the activities of the U.S. monitoring team and insistence on "working by the book."

On the other hand, senior officials in Sharon's bureau, together with high-ranking security elements have a positive view of Wolf and his team. They noted that Wolf was very meticulous about the new security arrangements and had prepared "a matrix" of steps for disarming the Palestinian terror groups and that he intended to insist on implementation of the steps.

The U.S. administration is sticking by its understanding with Israel that the issue of the outposts and settlements will be handled separately from the general implementation of the road map and will be discussed along bilateral Israeli-U.S. channels.

Hence the task of raising the issue of the need to dismantle the unauthorized outposts has been entrusted to U.S. Ambassador Daniel Kurtzer, and not Wolf.