U.S. official: PA security forces fighting terror in West Bank
Official says lifting of roadblocks hasn't significantly altered ground situation for West Bank Palestinians.
The roadblocks and other traffic impediments lifted by Israel in the West Bank in recent months have not significantly altered the situation on the ground for the Palestinian population, an American official involved in monitoring Israel-Palestinian Authority relations said Monday.
The same official noted that the Palestinian Authority security forces have taken action to counter terrorist activities, and carried out a major operation in Jenin where they tried to arrest suspects who had been on Israel's wanted list.
"The security forces can do even more, but they have had some successes," he said.
The American official said the U.S. administration is not providing the PA security forces with arms, and stressed that according to information received by the Americans, weapons recently transfered to the PA did not make their way to Islamic militants.
He explained that the central weakness of the PA security establishment is in the Palestinian legal system, which makes it impossible for the Palestinian authorities to prosecute suspects or to remand them in custody.
"The changes that have occured in this area [law] has not been sufficient," the official said.
According to the American official, the Palestinian National Security force that completed its basic training in Jordan has gone back for more specialized training under U.S. guidance. He said that Israel has still not made clear whether it would agree to the transfer of protective equipment for the PA security forces, items like helmets and protective vests.
Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice ended her sixth trip to the region this year, with no sign of progress in the Israeli-Palestinian track.
In light of the unstable domestic political situation in Israel, officials here balked at the possibility of a deal with the Palestinians, rejecting criticism over settlement construction, and calling for decisions on Jerusalem's future to be deferred.
Rice held three-way talks with Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad yesterday, before making a surprise visit to Beirut.
Faced with the prospect of early elections should Olmert fall, Israel's chief negotiator, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, has balked at producing a document that could spell out proposed concessions on borders and other issues, Israeli and Palestinian officials said.
Israeli officials were also cool to suggestions, backed by the Palestinians, that Rice hold more intensive three-way meetings with Livni and her Palestinian negotiating partner, former Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia. Israeli sources said Livni favored a joint announcement that the negotiations continue after Bush leaves office in 2009, though her position puts her at odds with Olmert and Rice who favor a written agreement this year.
"The goal is still to reach an agreement with the Palestinians by the end of Bush's term," Mark Regev, Olmert's spokesman, said Monday.
But Regev added that Olmert believed it would be "difficult" to reach agreement on the sensitive issue of Jerusalem in that time frame. He said any joint document should instead look at ways of moving forward with negotiations over the city.
"We don't want to see that issue [Jerusalem] torpedoing the chances of getting a document," Regev said, adding that Jerusalem was the most divisive issue facing negotiators.
Commenting on Regev's remarks, Yasser Abed Rabbo, a top aide to Abbas, said: "There won't be an agreement without Jerusalem."
During her visit, Rice warned Israel that continued settlement building was harming the peace negotiations which Israeli officials said were consistent with long-standing policies.