Israel to Release Money, Remove Checkpoints

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will bring a "package of gestures" for Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas to Monday's summit in Sharm el-Sheikh.

The summit meeting, to be attended by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Jordan's King Abdullah II as well, is meant to show support for Abbas and the emergency government he formed in the West Bank this week, following Hamas' takeover of the Gaza Strip.

At Sunday's weekly cabinet meeting, Olmert will ask the ministers to approve a decision to resume talks with Abbas' government, headed by Salam Fayad. Israel suspended contact with the PA government when Hamas won the Palestinian parliamentary elections 18 months ago. Resuming ties will be dependent on the Fayad government's accepting the conditions posed by the Quartet of Middle East peacemakers - recognizing Israel, disavowing violence and honoring previous agreements.

Ahead of Sunday's cabinet session, Olmert will meet with Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni to finalize the proposed concessions to Abbas. He will also hold consultations with the army top brass.

The proposed "package of gestures" will center on releasing tax monies that Israel collected on the PA's behalf but withheld after Hamas's election. It remains unclear which part of the $600 million in question will be transferred to Palestinian coffers. The cabinet will be asked to approve the release in principle, leaving the practical details for later.

A government source in Jerusalem said yesterday that more concessions will be offered, but that a prisoner release is not on the agenda.

Defense establishment officials said that several steps "tolerable from Israel's standpoint" could be taken to ease the Palestinians' daily lives. Among the potential concessions under discussion are removing some of the checkpoints in the West Bank to increase Palestinians' freedom of movement; encouraging investors - primarily from the Arab world - to build industrial plants in the West Bank; stopping the hunt for Fatah operatives in the West Bank; and agreeing in principle to let the Americans supply arms to the PA.

The last two matters were raised earlier this week at a meeting among the head of the Civil Administration in the territories, Brigadier General Yoav Mordechai; the commander of the Judea and Samaria Division, Brigadier General Yair Golan; and the PA's chiefs of national security and intelligence. One of Abbas's advisers also attended.

A defense official said yesterday that the army is leaning toward maintaining the current quantity of arms in the West Bank, which means allowing the replacement of worn-out weapons only. However, the possibility of permitting the Palestinians to operate armored personnel carriers will probably be up for discussion as well, he said.

Regarding the hunt for Fatah operatives, the official quoted Palestinian participants at the meeting as saying that if Israel desists, the PA will move to dismantle the armed militias and arrest terrorists.