Pre-parley outpost removal deemed 'unlikely'

Israeli sources: Other moves, such as reducing number of roadblocks, checkpoints "can be done."

rice olmert 298.88 (photo credit: GPO [file])
rice olmert 298.88
(photo credit: GPO [file])
While Palestinian prisoners might be released ahead of the upcoming Annapolis conference, it's unlikely that illegal outposts will be removed, Israeli sources said Tuesday. The US is looking for confidence-building measures ahead of the peace meeting tentatively scheduled for the end of November and has long pressed for the outposts to be removed. It has also referred to the road map as the basis for moving forward, and taking down the outposts is part of Israel's first-phase obligations. But, an Israeli source said, "it's not something that could be done before Annapolis." He did say that other moves, such as reducing the number of roadblocks and checkpoints, "can be done." Diplomatic activity in Washington, Jerusalem and Ramallah has been intensifying in the weeks leading up to the meeting, though the date has not been finalized. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice just returned from her eighth trip to the region this year, with another one possible before the international gathering. Several congressmen, meanwhile, recently held a closed-door meeting with a delegation of diplomatic officials from countries expected to participate, including Jordan, Egypt and Israel. Congress, as well as Israel, has been urging greater Arab support for Palestinian engagement in the peace process in order to give the effort broader legitimacy. Also Tuesday, a visiting group of Muslim, Jewish and Christian clerics from Israel and the Palestinian territories met with American Jewish leaders and urged them to back the Annapolis process. It was seen as the first time a prominent group of Holy Land clerics had publicly joined together to promote peace, codified by a document expected to be released Wednesday. The group, which will be meeting with high-level State Department and White House officials, comprises around 20 people and includes Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi Yona Metzger and Sheikh Hamed Tamimi, who heads the sharia court system in the West Bank. Hamimi described the Annapolis meeting as a "truly unique" opportunity for peace, according to audience members, and, like many of the clerics, urged the American Jewish community to support the process. "The Jewish community in America has a very important role in supporting peace," he reportedly told the audience, which included leaders from the Conservative, Orthodox and Reconstructionist movements, as well as various non-sectarian organizations. "Please don't miss this opportunity." Ori Nir, representing Americans for Peace Now at the meeting, called the visit of such a broad delegation - which also includes the heads of the major Christian communities in the Holy Land - very meaningful because of its proximity to the Annapolis meeting. "It's significant in terms of timing, because there is an impression that at least one of the core issues - which is Jerusalem - is intractable because of the religious dimension," he said. "The message they're sending is that religious people can agree on the importance of the peace process, that religious people can support the peace process," he said. "This kind of religious effort might have more impact in terms of moving peace forward and in terms of the Middle East in general and Annapolis than even the secular [political] process," said Steve Gutow, executive director of the Jewish Council of Public Affairs, which hosted Tuesday's forum with Jewish leaders. "The power of spirituality, if really unleashed, can impact millions."