U.S. Sets Benchmarks for Israeli-Palestinian Talks

Obligations of PA include security, terror prevention; Israel required to uphold freedom of movement.

The U.S. government will be giving Israel and the Palestinians a list of benchmarks in the coming weeks on compliance with their obligations. For the Palestinians, these include areas of security and terror prevention, while Israel has been asked to do its part in keeping the Gaza Strip crossings in operation and easing restrictions on movement in the West Bank.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will be visiting the region during the second half of May for another round of talks with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas.

A senior Western source said the list of benchmarks, which awaits Rice's signature and would be the basis for talks when she comes to the region, will probably be presented to the two sides before her visit.

The American document was sent for approval to the administration last week after consultations among U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dick Jones, Consul General Jacob Wallace and the American security coordinator in the territories, General Keith Dayton.

The Palestinians would be asked to reform their security forces, revamp the work of the Presidential Guard with regard to the crossings, as well as prevent terror, the entry of terrorists and money smuggling. Israel would be asked to deal with issues and agreements involving the crossings, checkpoints and road blocks in the territories.

A senior Palestinian official declined to say Monday whether the PA would cooperate with the document. "We have to see first what the steps are and then we will decide," he told Haaretz.

In talks with the Chinese special envoy to the region, Sun Bigan, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni on Monday presented a "political horizon" that Israel would focus on in talks with Abbas, including security and economic facets of the final status solution. It does not, however, include discussion of the "core issues" of the final status agreement, including Jerusalem, the 1967 borders and Palestinian refugees.

"Israel and the Palestinians are discussing the essence and character of the future Palestinian state. In this framework, Israel will raise its security interests, which need a response in the process of the establishment of a state, especially in light of weapons smuggling to Gaza," Livni said.

According to Livni, "certainly the Palestinians have various economic needs that they will raise with regard to the characteristics of the future state. This is a common denominator on which to base talks, instead of starting precisely with those issues that are the most sensitive and the least soluble."

Livni also said that there was no intention for Israel to conduct talks with the Arab countries instead of the Palestinians, "but they could and should support (the negotiations)" and strengthen the moderate Palestinians "at the junctures of decision and compromise that will be required."