US awaits Israel on 'benchmark' plan

Document sets deadlines for both Palestinians, Israelis in peace process.

rafah 298.88 (photo credit: Associated Press [file])
rafah 298.88
(photo credit: Associated Press [file])
Israel has yet to respond officially to a US document on movement and access presented in April, even though the plan is likely to be on the table at the White House when Prime Minister Ehud Olmert visits there a week from Tuesday. The document, written by the US security coordinator Lt.-Gen. Keith Dayton, US Ambassador to Israel Dick Jones and US Consul-General in Jerusalem Jacob Walles, sets deadlines for steps both the Israelis and Palestinians are expected to carry out. It has been roundly criticized by both defense and IDF officials, but is largely seen by the administration as a way to push the Israeli-Palestinian track forward. The document calls on Israel to remove many West Bank checkpoints, improve operations at Gaza Strip crossings and arrange for a truck route between the West Bank and Gaza. Israel is also urged to allow weapons and equipment to reach security forces loyal to PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. Defense officials have sharply criticized the plan, saying that a link between Gaza and the West Bank would severely undermine efforts to isolate the two areas and keep arms and trained terrorists from moving to the West Bank. They also argue that Israel needs to curtail movement inside the West Bank to keep suicide bombers from infiltrating Israel. However, Israeli diplomatic officials have argued that the roadblocks and checkpoints are causing Israel a great deal of diplomatic damage, and that a number of them are unnecessary and could be lifted. The US made clear after the plan was presented that it did not view it as a "take it or leave it" document, but rather one that could be discussed. The stated position of the US administration was that none of the steps recommended would endanger Israeli security, but that the US was open to Israeli feedback. Sources in the Prime Minister's Office could not say on Sunday night when a response would be forthcoming, although it is widely expected that Israel would respond before Olmert's visit to the US on June 17. Prime ministerial visits to the US are often accompanied by gestures or declarations aimed at creating a "positive atmosphere."