Israel expects US President George W. Bush to take a firm stand against terrorism when he meets with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas in Washington on Thursday, a source in the Prime Minister's Office told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday.
The expectation comes despite calls from the State Department on Monday, following the death of three Israelis in a drive-by shooting by Palestinian terrorists, to continue making gestures to ease the lives of Palestinians.
On Sunday Israel imposed travel restrictions on West Bank Palestinians, barring them from major roads amid fears that the shootings signaled the start of a new round of Palestinian attacks against Israelis in the territories.
Israel also suspended talks with the Palestinian Authority on prisoner releases and arrangements for the Gaza-Egypt border, Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said. Other contacts, such as security meetings between local commanders, were not affected.
"In Israel, we have no desire to return to a reality of daily attacks against Israeli civilians," Regev said. "We want to send a very strong and sharp message to the Palestinians, and the temporary suspension of talks is that message."
The US called on Israel Monday to "consider the ramifications" of its actions in the West Bank. In a message passed on by the American security coordinator General William Ward to the government of Israel and in public statements by the State Department, the US acknowledged Israel's right to defend itself, but asked the Israelis to limit their reaction and to keep the channels of negotiation open.
"Dialogue is important, contact is important," said State Department spokesman Sean McCormack, regarding the Israeli decision to put a hold on all negotiations with the Palestinians.
The US administration is worried mainly about the Israeli decision to reinstate travel restrictions in the West Bank and impose limits on free movement of between cities. "We understand and support Israel's right to defend itself. But at the same time, we urge them to, in whatever steps they might take, consider the ramifications of their actions on the ultimate goal," said McCormack, adding that "we would ask the Israeli government, and we have asked the Israeli government as you know in the past, to take steps to ease the daily plight of the Palestinian people."
General William Ward, who will be ending his mission in the region this month, spoke to security officials on both sides following Sunday's attacks and urged them to "maintain an atmosphere of calm," as spokesman McCormack described the conversations.
While calling on Israel to refrain from tough measures in the West Bank, the State Department emphasized the responsibility of the Palestinian Authority to fight violence and to act against the terror groups in the territories. "We urge the Palestinian government to continue to meet their road map obligations in not only fighting to stop terror attacks but dismantle those terrorist networks that are responsible for these attacks. More needs to be done to stop these kinds of attacks," said McCormack.
A spokesman for the prime minister said he would not comment on the State Department's criticism of Israel.
Another source in the Prime Minister's Office told The Jerusalem Post that the government believed that in spite of the State Department's criticism of Israel, Bush would take a firm stand with Abbas when it comes to terror. "If he [Abbas] does this, then we can move forward, we can make make gestures and assist the Palestinians," said the source. "Every time we open up and take more liberal steps and try to cater to the human needs of the Palestinian people we pay for it in funerals," he said. "We are willing to go very far in support of Abu Mazen [Abbas], but we will not pay for it with the lives of Israelis," said the source, adding that the Israeli government is also concerned about the daily lives of the Palestinians and would like to see them return to normal.
He said he believed the attack was intended to send a message to Abbas not to succumb to pressure from the Bush to dismantle terror organizations, but added that in spite of this Abbas must hold onto to the rule of law in both Gaza and the West Bank in order for progress to be made.
Abbas is due in Washington on Wednesday for his second meeting with Bush and the first since Israel pulled out of Gaza.
Thursday's meeting between the two leaders, according to US sources, will focus on upcoming elections in the Palestinian Authority and on the reform process within the PA. McClellan said on Monday that Bush is looking forward to welcoming Abbas and that the US will "continue to urge the Palestinian leadership to take steps to put in place law and order in Gaza." McClellan added that the administration would continue supporting Abbas as he moves forward on good governance.
Russia's President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday warned Israel and the Palestinians against losing momentum given to the peace process by Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.
In letters sent to President Moshe Katsav and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, Putin urged them to continue energetic peace efforts and reaffirmed Moscow's proposal to host an international meeting of experts to discuss further steps in implementing the road map peace plan for the region.
"Without visible changes for the better in the daily life of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, the initial euphoria may be replaced by disappointment, something that extremist forces will not fail to take advantage of," the Kremlin said in a statement.
"In this context, guarantees of freedom of movement for people and goods on the Palestinian territories, of their contact with the outside world... would accelerate progress along the path to a just and lasting political settlement," Putin said.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said Tuesday that Moscow "resolutely condemns" the latest terror attacks in the West Bank, but also cautioned Israel against "disproportionate use of force" and any actions that would exacerbate the Palestinians' condition.
In a letter to Abbas, Putin urged him "not to allow a long pause in the peace process, for otherwise the positive dynamism that was achieved with such difficulties might be lost."
Russia is one of the four members of the so-called Quartet of international mediators that drafted the "road map" peace plan. The others are the United Nations, the United States and the European Union.
In Israel on Monday Vice Premier Shimon Peres asked the National Security Council to prepare within two months a report about the impact of Israel's withdrawal from Gaza. Peres said that Gaza had special status in that it is not a nation and is not an occupied territory. It's an area that is preparing to be a nation, he said. It has many problem including poverty and hunger. One should not look at Gaza purely from a security perspective, he said Monday during a meeting with ministers, including Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, Internal Security Minister Gideon Ezra and Minister-without-portfolio Haim Ramon.