U.S. Raps Israel for Not Easing Conditions in PA

Lt. Gen. Keith Dayton, the top American security envoy to the Palestinian Authority, has criticized Israel for its failure to help define a "security horizon" for the Palestinians and its refusal to ease conditions in the territories.

In his reports to Washington, Dayton says forces loyal to President Mahmoud Abbas have improved their performance in recent battles with Hamas.

Dayton told the Congress and State Department that the security force loyal to Abbas was demonstrating satisfactory progress and that he detected signs that Hamas was weakening.

Among other things, Abbas loyalists had blocked a Hamas offensive despite a high number of fatalities in their ranks, and closed two tunnels used for smuggling arms from Egypt, Dayton said. However, Dayton said Hamas' ability to sabotage Abbas' efforts was still considerable.

Officials Dayton spoke to said he believed that the political situation in Israel was making it hard to make "difficult decisions" such as removing roadblocks.

"It's ridiculous to argue that there isn't a single roadblock that can be removed," an American official said.

Dayton told Washington officials that the Israeli defense establishment objected every time suggestions were made to alleviate the Palestinians' situation.

A number of sources said Dayton had arguments described as harsh with GOC Central Command Yair Nave and other command officers.

Like other senior American officials, Dayton dismisses Israel's objections to the "benchmarks" paper the Americans had presented to Israel and the Palestinians. Israel rejected the proposed timetable to remove all the roadblocks in the West Bank and the demand for Palestinian convoys between Gaza and the West Bank.

Israel accepted only the demand, which it had already carried out before receiving the paper, to increase activity at the Karni cargo crossing on the Gaza border.

Senior Israeli officials said the American plan had not been coordinated in advance with Israel and that it contained unreasonable demands.

The Americans dismiss these arguments out of hand. The plan presented to Israel was a "working paper" which did not need to be coordinated, they said. "Israel knew very well what we were working on," an American official said.

Other officials said Israel's surprise at the document was feigned. Washington sees the Israeli position as a spin intended to undermine the American program's credibility. Dayton was not impressed by Israel's criticism of the paper.

"Israeli officials make it out as though what we want is that from tomorrow morning anyone would be able to get on a bus with a suitcase and travel from Gaza to Hebron, while they know very well that is not the case," an American source said.

Dayton is due to return to the region next week after his talks in the U.S. His report to Washington conveys "cautious optimism but not naivete," an American official said.

However, he believes Hamas' ability to try to sabotage Abbas' efforts is still considerable.