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Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz and Palestinian Civil Affairs Minister Muhammad Dahlan were scheduled to meet again Monday to try and close a deal on the Rafah crossing, as Quartet envoy James Wolfensohn threatened the sides Sunday that if a deal were not reached within the next 72 hours he would consider going back home.
Wolfensohn met Sunday evening at the Saban Forum in Jerusalem with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice soon after she arrived.
One source close to the negotiations said the sides were still tied up over how the film from surveillance cameras installed at the Rafah crossing will be transferred to Israel. Israel was arguing that real-time pictures from the crossing were necessary for security purposes, while the Palestinians countered that a real-time feed directly to Israel would impinge on its sovereignty.
One idea being discussed involves setting up a liaison office, which will be manned by Israeli, Palestinian, Egyptian, and EU officials that will go over the film in real time.
Israel and the PA have agreed that Palestinians with valid identification cards will go back and forth from Gaza to Egypt through Rafah, and that EU monitors will be on hand to actively monitor PA officials there. In addition, goods from Gaza to Egypt will go through Rafah, while goods from Egypt to Gaza will use a terminal at Kerem Shalom.
Wolfesnohn Sunday toured the greenhouses in Gaza, the former settlement of Netzarim, and the Karni crossing and told Israeli officials afterward that he was frustrated by what he saw and was considering going home. One official said that if the deal was not wrapped up on Rafah by the time Rice left the country Monday afternoon, Wolfensohn - who has been negotiating with the Israelis and Palestinians for months over economic issues - would leave the region.
Officials involved in the negotiations explained that Wolfensohn believes there is a very narrow window of opportunity - now that the Israeli political field has shifted so dramatically - to conclude a deal, and feels that if matters were not wrapped up now, it would be another six months before either side would be able to take the necessary decisions.
Wolfensohn also expressed frustration that tons of produce were rotting in Gaza storehouses, unable to be transported to market.
Officials close to the negotiations have said that Rice attributed a great deal of importance to wrapping up the deal as soon as possible, and that she was concerned that if something as relatively simple as this could not be concluded, then it did not bode well for harder issues that will have to be dealt with down the line.
Speaking at the Saban Forum in Jerusalem's King David Hotel, Rice said Sunday night that the Bush administration is under no illusion that democratic change in the Middle East will be either swift or easy.
"We are not naive about the pace or the difficulty of democratic change," Rice said, "but the possibility of peace is both hopeful and realistic."
Rice expressed the US desire to see Israel work towards easing the lives of Palestinians, but added "dismantling the infrastructure of terrorism is essential for peace, and in the final analysis no democratic government can tolerate parties with one foot in the realm of politics and one foot in the camp of terrorism."
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