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The summit between Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas scheduled for Tuesday was postponed until the end of the month after a Sunday meeting between representatives of the two proved inconclusive.
According to a senior Palestinian spokesman, the meeting was postponed until the end of the month or the beginning of November, Army Radio reported.
â€œThe differences between the two sides still exist,â€ the spokesman said Monday.
Sharon's top aide Dov Weisglass and Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat failed to agree on key issues such as steps the PA needed to take to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure, Palestinian prisoner releases, the participation of Hamas in PA elections and the transfer of West Bank cities to the PA.
Another Weisglass-Erekat meeting, the third in four days, is scheduled for Monday.
In light of the difficulties preparing for the meeting, Sharon reportedly told the cabinet Sunday that "while it is important to have contact, you don't go to a meeting that is not properly prepared."
Abbas had also been quoted as saying the Palestinians did not need a summit for public relations purposes and didn't want to hold one if it looked like it would fail.
One official in Sharon's office said that if the substantial gaps between the sides were not bridged at Monday's meeting, then the Sharon-Abbas meeting would be postponed. Such a situation would mark the second time this month that a meeting between the two leaders who have not met since June 21 was postponed. An October 2 meeting was postponed following the outburst of violence in Gaza.
An official in Sharon's office said that although Israel would like to hold this meeting before Abbas traveled to Washington for a scheduled meeting with US President George Bush on October 20, no one would benefit if the meeting turned into a photo opportunity.
The official said that although Israel was willing to make certain gestures to the Palestinians, it would not do anything such as releasing prisoners with "blood on their hands," a move that could strengthen Hamas.
According to the official, Sharon is opposed to the Palestinian request for additional light weapons to tackle the terrorist infrastructure, but would under certain circumstances allow them to receive more bullets.
"The territories are awash with weapons," the official said. "If Abbas needs more guns, he should begin to confiscate them from Hamas. The problem is not weapons, but will."
In a related development, OC Intelligence Maj.-Gen. Aharon Ze'evi reportedly told the cabinet that Hamas was losing stature among the Palestinian public and that the PA had a real interest in maintaining the current calm.
On the other hand, he reportedly said, the Palestinian terrorist organizations were interested in upsetting any normalization of ties between the PA and Israel, and had an interest, therefore, in carrying out attacks. He was also quoted as saying that these organizations had an interest in seeing Palestinian children go hungry since this strengthened their position among the masses.