Fayyad to Barak: Give Palestinian Forces More Power in West Bank

Palestinian PM and Israeli defense minister meet for first high-level talks since U.S. began proximity negotiations; Barak: Netanyahu must give Obama plan for borders.

Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad urged Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Monday to grant Palestinian security forces a wider mandate in the West Bank.

The meeting between Fayyad and Barak was the first high-level contact between Israel and the Palestinians since the U.S. began mediating proximity peace negotiations earlier this year.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian PM Salam Fayad

Fayyad told Barak that the Palestinian forces- which have been retrained in the last three years with financial and technical support from the United States and the European Union - must be allowed to operate in wider areas of the West Bank, most of which falls under complete Israeli control. Likewise, Fayyad said, Israeli forces must halt raids into Palestinian towns and cities.

"Quick resolution of both issues is very important in order for there to begin to develop a sense of a state in the making," said Fayyad, briefing journalists on the meeting several hours later from Ramallah, where his government is based.

There was no immediate comment from Barak on the meeting, which was held at the King David Hotel. Barak's office said on Sunday that he would discuss "various issues related to relations between Israel and the Palestinians".

Fayyad said he pressed other Palestinian demands including that Israel quickly and entirely lift its blockade of the Gaza Strip, governed by the Hamas group which is openly hostile to Fayyad and the Palestinian Authority headed by President Mahmoud Abbas.

Fayyad said Barak had promised the issues he raised, among them Israeli actions in East Jerusalem, would "be seriously studied and there will be specific and clear answers to all the issues that were discussed".

Barak urged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu earlier Monday to present U.S. President Barack Obama with a clear peace initiative that includes a proposed border between Israel and a future Palestinian state, when the two leaders meet in Washington on Tuesday.

"Israel must pull that bull by the horns [during the meeting with Obama] and present a clear initiative that discusses drawing a border in Israel in a way that settlement blocs along the border will remain in our hands and have a solid Jewish majority for generations, but in a way that will enable the establishment of an independent and demilitarized Palestinian state," Barak told a hearing for the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

He added that Israel must present an "assertive political initiative' to strengthen ties with the United States and moderate Arab countries, as well as curb the international de-legitimization of Israel.

"We tend to ignore the importance of our peace with Egypt and Jordan," said Barak, "and we cannot be allowed to forget it."

The defense minister also addressed the feud between him and Trade Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer over the latter's secret meeting last week with the Turkish foreign minister in an effort to defuse the crisis surrounding Israel's deadly raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla.

Barak said that when he was in the U.S. last week, officials tried to schedule a meeting between him and the Turkish foreign minister and ambassador, but he declined.

"It was clear these meetings were intended to raise Turkish complaints about the flotilla deaths and to demand compensation for those killed and injured, because of which I thought it is not the right time to meet them," said Barak.

Barak added that upon his return to Israel he told Netanyahu that it would be an inappropriate time for Ben-Eliezer to meet Turkish officials.