Erekat: Barak busy planning incursions

US monitor Fraser meets Israeli, Palestinian reps; won't publish report on road map compliance.

william fraser 224.88 (photo credit: Courtesy USAF)
william fraser 224.88
(photo credit: Courtesy USAF)
Israeli and Palestinian representatives sat down Friday at Jerusalem's King David Hotel for their first meeting with a US general appointed to monitor their moves toward peace. The US representative, Lt. Gen. William Fraser III, must confront an upsurge in violence between the sides and the fact that neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians have fulfilled their obligations under the peace plan promoted by US President George W. Bush. The Palestinian Authority sent its prime minister, Salaam Fayad, while the Israelis sent a lower-level representative, head of the Defense Ministry's Diplomatic Security Bureau, Maj.-Gen. (res.) Amos Gilad. PA officials privately expressed displeasure that Defense Minister Ehud Barak did not be attending the meeting himself. "It would have been very appropriate for Barak to go. Maybe Barak couldn't go because he is busy planning more (settlement construction) and more incursions," Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said. A statement from Fayad's office said he was frustrated by Israel's failure to implement a settlement moratorium. "A freeze on settlement activity is crucial to preserving the possibility of a Palestinian state," the statement quoted him as saying. "By freeze, I mean not one more brick." The statement went on to praise Fraser, saying he showed "seriousness and commitment." The meeting was the first time Fraser has met with both sides and the first time Israeli and Palestinian teams have met since PA President Mahmoud Abbas suspended negotiations with Israel following a surge in violence in the Gaza Strip two weeks ago. The violence continued Friday morning, with Palestinian terrorists launching another six rockets from Gaza into Israel, causing no casualties. The Defense Ministry released no official statement after the meeting. The US Consulate in Jerusalem said the sides had discussed "where the parties are not meeting their commitments and the reasons why," and said the meeting included "a cordial but frank exchange of views." Meanwhile, The Jerusalem Post has learned that Fraser will not publicize the report on compliance with the road map obligations he was expected to present at Friday's trilateral meeting. Rather, according to diplomatic officials, Fraser is expected to present each side with his report, and then pass it - as well as the Israeli and Palestinian responses to it - on to US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who will then decide how to proceed further. Rice appointed Fraser as the road map monitor after the Annapolis Conference in November, and he has since visited here a number of times and had both his own staff and staff from the US Embassy in Tel Aviv and the Consulate in Jerusalem doing field work. "He has definitely done his homework," one diplomatic official said. Israel is bracing for what it expects to be a highly critical report that will focus more on Israel's construction in the settlements and failure to dismantle settlement outposts than it will on the Palestinian failure to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure in Gaza and the West Bank. Israel is expected to respond that while it has not lived up to its commitments, it cannot be expected to do so at a time when the Palestinians have turned the Gaza Strip into a haven for terrorism, in complete contravention of the road map. Under the first stage of the road map, the Palestinians are to declare an unequivocal end to violence and terrorism and make visible efforts on the ground to "arrest, disrupt and restrain" people and groups planning attacks on Israelis. Likewise, a rebuilt PA security apparatus is to begin operations "aimed at confronting all those engaged in terror and dismantlement of terrorist capabilities and infrastructure." Israel is called upon in the document to dismantle all settlement outposts established after March 2001, and to freeze "all settlement activity [including natural growth of settlements]." That Fraser will not go public with his report is very much in line with the US position articulated soon after he was appointed that he is less a road map "referee," publicly flagging the offences of both side, and more a road map "coach" trying to nudge the sides toward fulfilling their commitments. Defense officials said that if questioned about Israeli failure to meet the requirements of the road map, Gilad would respond by saying that the "Palestinians have also not done anything to move the road map forward." "The Palestinians have done nothing to improve the security situation on the ground," a defense official explained. "How can we then be expected to move forward with our obligations?" Regarding American concerns over Israeli plans to build new housing units in east Jerusalem and several West Bank settlements, the defense officials said that Israel would continue to build in Jerusalem and in the major settlement blocs. "These areas are an integral part of the State of Israel and we will continue to build there," the official said.