PA rejects demands for a demilitarized Palestine

The prospects for a breakthrough in the peace process in the near future have dwindled following reports that Israel will demand that the future Palestinian state be demilitarized, Palestinian Authority officials in Ramallah said Thursday. The officials also strongly condemned Israel's security measures in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, saying the latest escalation posed an imminent threat to the PA's efforts to consolidate its power in these areas. The PA leadership said it was very concerned by the fact that Israel was planning to demand that the IDF be able to operate inside a future Palestinian state to foil terrorist attacks or a military offensive from the east. "The Palestinian Authority rejects talk about a demilitarized Palestinian state," a senior PA official told The Jerusalem Post. "A Palestinian state that does not have a strong security force won't be able to survive for one day. Every day Israel sends yet another message that it does not want peace with its neighbors." Another official in Ramallah said Israel's talk about a demilitarized Palestinian state and retaining control of Ma'aleh Adumim and other settlement blocs in the West Bank "proves that Israel is not working toward achieving a two-state solution." Israel, he added, wanted a Palestinian state only on parts of the West Bank where the IDF would continue to operate freely. "Our position remains unchanged," the official said. "There will never be peace without a Palestinian state in the entire West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem. We insist on a full withdrawal to the 1967 borders." PA negotiator Yasser Abed Rabbo, who has been dispatched to Washington for talks with US officials ahead of President George W. Bush's visit to the region next week, will express the PA's deep concern over Israel's latest security measures and position regarding the status of the future Palestinian state, the official told the Post. According to the official, Abed Rabbo would demand that Bush call for an end to construction in all settlements, including in Jewish neighborhoods in east Jerusalem, during his visit to Israel and the PA territories. The PA also wants a clear statement from Bush that a Palestinian state would enjoy full sovereignty with a strong security force, the official said. Ahmed Qurei, head of the PA team negotiating with Israel, said the Palestinians considered all the settlements to be illegal. "The settlements are an act of aggression against the Palestinians," he said. "We are opposed to all the settlements, including Ma'aleh Adumim. These settlements, as well as the occupation, must go." Nabil Shaath, a former minister and a top adviser to PA President Mahmoud Abbas, said Israel's recent actions and statements jeopardized the future of the peace process. "It's impossible for us to negotiate on the basis of land for peace while Israel is taking our lands and continuing to build more settlements," he said. "Israel is doing everything to sabotage the understandings reached at the Annapolis peace conference." In response to the latest IDF operations, Abbas's spokesman, Nabil Abu Rudaineh, accused Israel of "sending a bloody message" to the Palestinians on the eve of Bush's visit to the region. "Israel is trying to avoid fulfilling its commitments under the terms of the road map and the peace process," Abu Rudaineh said. "Israel is also seeking to sabotage the results of the Annapolis conference by escalating the situation so that the issue of security will dominate the agenda of Bush's talks."