Israel to respond to benchmarks before PM goes to US

Olmert to meet with Bush in Washington on June 19; Rice to come to Israel soon after Olmert trip.

Olmert 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
Olmert 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
In its formal response to a US document on access and movement that will be presented this week, Israel will say that some of the measures called for in the plan have been carried out, others are in the process of being carried out, and still others cannot be implemented at this time because they would endanger Israelis, senior government sources told The Jerusalem Post. According to sources in the Prime Minister's Office, Israel's formal response to what has become known as the "benchmark document" will come before Prime Minister Ehud Olmert leaves for the US on Saturday night. The visit will mark the beginning of a hectic diplomatic fortnight that will include an Olmert meeting with Bush in Washington on June 19, a major Middle East policy speech expected to be delivered by US President George W. Bush on June 24, an expected visit by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to Israel on June 25, and a Quartet meeting on June 26-27 in Cairo that both Olmert and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas are likely to attend. A senior source in Olmert's office said that although there has been "talk" of Olmert participating in that meeting, no formal invitation has yet been issued. If an invitation were extended, he said, Olmert would most likely attend. According to senior government sources, Israel would say that it had already carried out steps in the benchmark document aimed at improving the situation at the Gaza Strip crossings, that it was in the process of removing or changing the modus operandi at various roadblocks throughout the West Bank as called for in the plan, but that it was unable to agree to the clause in the document calling for a truck route to be established between the West Bank and Gaza due to security concerns. The document, written in April by US security coordinator Lt.-Gen Keith Dayton, US Ambassador to Israel Richard Jones, and US Consul-General in Jerusalem Jacob Walles, sets deadlines for steps that both Israel and the Palestinians are expected to carry out. The document, aimed at inching the Israeli-Palestinian diplomatic process forward, also urged Israel to allow weaponry and equipment to reach security forces loyal to Abbas. In a related development, Meretz MKs Avshalom Vilan and Zahava Gal-On met Monday evening with Abbas and discussed their initiative to place an international force in Gaza to prevent Kassam fire on Israel and work toward the economic rehabilitation of the Gaza Strip. Abbas, according to a statement issued by the two MKs, said that the idea should be discussed and considered. Abbas told the Meretz delegation that last week's meeting with Olmert was cancelled because there was no reason to hold a meeting where it would not be agreed that Israel would transfer frozen tax revenues to the PA, allow for the strengthening of Palestinian security forces, or approve the start of construction of a Gaza port.