Israel to Release $100 Million to PA

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said yesterday during a meeting with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas that Israel was ready make some concessions to help bolster the PA chairman. He said, however, that Israel would not free Palestinian prisoners before kidnapped Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit was released.

The most significant concession was to allow the transfer of $100 million in frozen Palestinian tax money to the PA to meet humanitarian needs in the territories. Israel is to transfer the funds directly to Abbas's presidential office, and not to the Hamas-led government. The money would be transfered following the establishment of a system to ensure it was used for purposes decided on by Abbas.

Olmert also promised to work to remove several West Bank checkpoints.

The prime minister also pledged to reexamine security procedures at crossings to ease commerce between Israel and the Gaza Strip, to reach the goal of moving 400 trucks a day through the crossings to Gaza.

The leaders also agreed to renew the work of the joint committees, especially the four-way security committee, consisting of representatives of Israel, the U.S., the PA and the Egyptians. Olmert's bureau said the committees would deal with maintaining the cease-fire and promoting the transfer in the future of security responsibilities in the Palestinian territories. The Palestinians said they would deploy the Presidential Guard along the Philidelphi route at Rafiah, and in the northern Gaza Strip.

Olmert told Abbas he understood the sensitivity of the Palestinians on the matter of prisoners, and said he would release many prisoners after Shalit's release. Abbas told Olmert that Shalit was in the hands of Hamas.

Olmert reiterated his willingness in principle to transfer guns from Egypt to Abbas' forces in the Gaza Strip, and to have the Palestinian Badr Brigade from Jordan come to Gaza. Olmert told Abbas Israel would have difficulty continuing to show restraint if Qassam fire continued on Israel.

Abbas thanked Olmert for his restraint and asked to expand the cease-fire to the West Bank, and Olmert told him it depended on whether the cease-fire was kept in the Gaza Strip.

A statement by Olmert's bureau also said the two leaders expressed their desire to cooperate as "true partners" to promote the peace process and reach a two-state solution based on the road map.

The PA chief of negotiations, Saeb Erekat, said in a press conference in Ramallah yesterday that the meeting with Olmert had been very useful. He said it had been agreed that a joint committee would re-examine the criteria for the release of prisoners and the Palestinians would submit a list of prisoners' names tomorrow.

Palestinian sources told Haaretz that "the president [Abbas] did not receive dramatic concessions, although the release of prisoners could have helped greatly. Nevertheless, the meeting was held in a very positive atmosphere and the Israeli team showed willingness to discuss the various issues that could move the process ahead in the future. We heard many promises from Olmert, we hope at least some will be fulfilled."