U.S. Coordinator Plans Five New Palestinian Battalions in W. Bank

A new plan by the U.S. security coordinator in the territories, General Keith Dayton, calls for the deployment of five new Palestinian battalions throughout the West Bank. The plan, whose aim is to bolster Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, requires the approval of Israel if arms and equipment are to be transferred for the new force, political sources in Jerusalem said yesterday.

The plan, which is still in its early development, is likely to call for the staged creation of the force, with relatively small units undergoing the necessary training.

Last week, Congress authorized for the first time the transfer of $80 million to the security delegation headed by Dayton, which will be used to bolster the security forces of Abbas. To date, no funding was transfered to Dayton, and the money will allow him to carry out his plans.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said that he would like to conclude a single-page agreement of principles with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. The agreement would offer a political horizon for moderate Palestinians, and at the same time avoid details that would cause a political crisis that would derail the diplomatic process.

Earlier this week, Olmert met with a visiting American congressional delegation headed by Gary Ackerman (D-NY), and brought them up to date on his meetings with Abbas.

"The question is whether we will be able to carry out some of the understandings we will reach," Olmert said. "I believe that we want and can make decisions, but the Palestinians have a number of groups, they have no stable democracy, and there is uncertainty about the government and their institutions. I hope we can reach understandings on basic issues, but the implementation will be carried out on the basis of the road map."

Olmert said that the understandings will be "far reaching, so that Abu Mazen [Abbas] will not lose the moderates, but sufficiently moderate so that no mines [sensitive issues] explode. I will propose reasonable and positive views that Abu Mazen will be able to take, and which will be accepted by Palestinian public opinion and Israeli public opinion. We will not push him toward any declarations that will be good at noon and cause us to lose everything by evening."

In the prime minister's view, the main goal of the international summit scheduled to take place in Washington in November is to include Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in the diplomatic process, in an effort to broaden the Arab world's support for Abbas.

"I do not need to travel to Washington in order to meet Abu Mazen," Olmert told the vising Congressmen. "We meet here. The focus of the effort in the international summit will be to include elements that to date have not been part of the process."

During her meeting with the U.S. congressmen, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni presented the "red lines" on which Israel is unwilling to compromise. These include the issue of Palestinian refugees returning to territory inside Israel, and ensuring that the Palestinian state will not become a terrorist entity.