Benchmark Document / Israel concerned by Washington's demands
Senior officials fear a confrontation with Washington over a document of benchmarks it has presented to Israel and the Palestinian Authority setting a detailed timetable for measures each side must implement.
The document sets a schedule for removing roadblocks and opening passages in the territories and upgrading the Palestinian forces loyal to PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas. Israel is also urged to approve requests for weapons, munitions and equipment required by defense forces loyal to Abbas.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is to arrive on May 15 to discuss implementing the plan.
Officials in the defense establishment object to several issues in the document, especially the demand to expand the operation of the passages in the Gaza Strip and the removal of many roadblocks in the West Bank.
These officials believe that the benchmarks involve security risks.
Israel has not responded officially to the document and an inter-ministerial discussion on it was postponed yesterday.
The Prime Minister's Bureau is still waiting for the positions of the defense establishment, Foreign Ministry and Shin Bet vis-a-vis on the plan. The document, which Haaretz has obtained, sets a rigid timetable for implementing measures on either side.
The document was written by the U.S. security coordinator, Major General Keith Dayton, U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dick Jones and U.S. Consul-General in Jerusalem Jacob Walles.
It was sent to Washington, where it was approved by Secretary of State Rice before it was presented to Israel and the PA. However, both Israel and the PA's official answer to the document is still pending.
Palestinian sources told Haaretz that the PA has accepted the document, but it fears that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will sabotage the turning of it into an agreement due to his precarious political situation.
If both sides accept the document it will become a binding agreement.Rice was scheduled to arrive in mid-May to obtain both sides' approval of the document, but her visit may be postponed in view of the political situation in Israel.
The document demands, among other things, that Israel approve and support in an "immediate and ongoing" manner the requests of U.S. security coordinator Dayton for the provision of required armaments, ammunition and equipment for security forces under the control of and reporting to the PA chairman in the West Bank and Gaza.
Each clause is accompanied by a precise timetable for implementation. For example, Israel and the PA are required to establish, no later than July 1, 2007, a bus convoy service operating five days a week between the Erez checkpoint at the entrance to the Gaza Strip and the Tarqumiya roadblock at the entrance to Hebron for passengers from Gaza and the West Bank.
Israel is required to remove specific roadblocks and other traffic and movement restrictions in the West Bank at specified dates. For example, Israel must remove restrictions and provide access no later than June 1, 2007 in the Bethlehem 1 and 2 clusters, in the Hebron clusters 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8, in Nablus clusters 1, 2, 3 and 4 and in the Tubas 1 cluster.
It must remove roadblocks in the Nablus area and specifically the ones in Beit Iba, Hawara, Awarta, Shavei Shmoron and Beit Foriq no later than June 15. However, the timetable in the document is not entirely relevant as the measures in it were scheduled to begin on May 1.
Rice agreed on formulating the document during her last visit in Israel and the PA. The Palestinians received the document last Wednesday, April 25. Senior Palestinian sources told Haaretz that the PA accepts its principles, although the PA has not given Washington an official answer yet.
The PA and mainly its defense forces and national security adviser Mohammed Dahlan are required to take a series of clear steps, limited by a timetable.
Dahlan is required to develop a plan against Qassam rockets with the support of PA President Abbas no later than June 21, 2007. The president must deploy these forces no later than that date.
The Palestinian forces are required to act to prevent arms smuggling in the Rafah area in coordination with Israel.
Abbas and Dahlan must subject the defense forces to the PA chairman by June 15.
Both Israel and the Palestinians are required to reestablish the coordination and liaison headquarters in the West Bank.
Meanwhile, Israel is discussing with the European Union the extension of the European observers' mandate at the Rafah passage. The posting of observers enabled Israel's withdrawal from the Philadelphi route and the opening of the passage between Gaza and Egypt.