(photo credit: IDF [file])
The IDF and the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) are vehemently opposed to removing roadblocks in the West Bank as a goodwill gesture to the Palestinians, a high-ranking defense official told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday.
The defense establishment first wants the Palestinians to prove their capabilities in combating terrorism in the West Bank, the official said.
As an example, the official cited Sunday's capture of a Palestinian boy carrying three explosive devices at a checkpoint outside Nablus. According to the IDF, the boy had planned to transfer the explosives to a suicide bomber, who was to blow himself up in Tel Aviv in the next few days.
"The roadblocks prove themselves effective in saving Israeli lives," the defense official said. "As long as the roadblocks are doing their job, there is no way they can be removed."
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is scheduled to meet Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas on Monday. One of the issues on their agenda is the roadblocks and the easing of restrictions on Palestinian movement in the West Bank.
The roadblock issue has come up at every meeting between Olmert and Abbas, with Abbas always asking that the checkpoints be removed and Olmert responding, at least during the last two meetings, that he would check with the security establishment to see if it were feasible.
The senior defense official said the Defense Ministry was still working on the plan.
Another issue that has not yet "come to fruition" is a possible pre-Ramadan release of some 100 prisoners, government officials said Sunday night. They said the relevant authorities were still working on the names of those who might be released. Ramadan begins Thursday.
This will be the second meeting between Olmert and Abbas in 14 days, and their last meeting before US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrives next week.
Israeli officials said the meeting would deal with security, humanitarian and economic matters, a well as "political horizon" issues. One official in the Prime Minister's Office said "no leaps" were expected, but that the two sides were making "steady progress."
While the Palestinians want to draw up a detailed framework agreement - including timelines for the establishment of a Palestinian state - to bring to the US-sponsored Mideast meeting later in the year, Olmert wants to see a more broad-brush declaration of principles.
"What we are seeing is a difference of approaches," one official said. "We want to focus on the steps the Palestinians need to take to be able to govern, which will be a step toward statehood. They want to talk about the state, and jump over all the issues pertaining to governing."
These different approaches, the official said, were part of the problem the sides were having in drawing up a document to take to the Mideast meeting.
Meanwhile, Luis Amada, the foreign minister of Portugal, which currently holds the EU's rotating presidency, arrived Sunday for two days of talks and will meet with Olmert on Monday. He will be followed on Monday by French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, who is scheduled to meet Olmert on Tuesday.â€¢