JERUSALEM - The United States has proposed a detailed timetable for easing Palestinian movement and improving Israeli security in the coming months, part of its more hands-on involvement and a push to revive peace talks, officials said yesterday.
However, the document, published in the Haaretz daily, was presented at a time of growing political instability in Israel and the Palestinian areas, and chances of implementation seemed dim.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was under growing pressure from the Israeli public to resign over his handling of the war with Hezbollah in Lebanon last summer.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, meanwhile, told his Fatah Party after a return from Europe that he had made no progress toward lifting an international embargo of the Palestinian unity government, which includes the Islamic extremist group Hamas. Abbas stopped short of threatening resignation or early elections, but Fatah officials said a crisis was brewing.
Deadlines outlined in the document, which range from May 1 to Aug. 1, are only binding if the sides accept it, which they have not done, Haaretz said. In Washington, State Department spokesman Tom Casey said the document was not a formal agreement.
Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat welcomed the U.S. action. "I believe that this is the right approach," Erekat said. "This is transferring words to deeds."
An official in Olmert's office said some of the ideas contained in the document were already at various stages of implementation, citing relaxed restrictions at the Karni cargo crossing between Israel and the Gaza Strip. "There are a few Israel will not be able to address at present because of security concerns," the official added, speaking on condition of anonymity because talks on the document have been confidential.
The U.S. document calls on the sides to start implementing the peace plan known as the road map, which calls for a return to talks. The document was outlined in Haaretz yesterday and confirmed by Erekat.
The measures include an Israeli removal of West Bank roadblocks to facilitate Palestinian travel, and Palestinian action to stop the firing of rockets from the Gaza Strip into Israel.
The document also calls on Israel to set up a convoy system that would allow Palestinians to travel between the West Bank and Gaza, territories separated by Israel, and to ensure that the Rafah passenger terminal between Gaza and Egypt, which has been open only sporadically since an attack on a nearby army base in June, will be open at least five days a week.
Action by either side appeared unlikely at this time as long as both Abbas and Olmert face political instability. It was also unlikely the leaders would meet, as they agreed with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to do every two weeks.
Deputy Prime Minister Azzam al-Ahmed said Abbas had told him that the lack of progress with Israel could bring "a real crisis."
The Israeli leader has
endured a scathing report
on his handling of the Hezbollah war, calls for his resignation, his foreign minister's withdrawal of support, dismal poll numbers, and a major protest rally in Tel Aviv.
But political upheavals do
not appear over, and the biggest threats to Ehud Olmert's rule lie ahead.
The Labor Party may soon bolt the prime minister's coalition. The commission that criticized him over the war in Lebanon will issue
a final report this summer, expected to be more damning than the first.
Olmert also faces corruption probes that, combined with the rest, may end his rule.
- Associated Press