Posted by D from 126.96.36.199.cfl.rr.com (188.8.131.52) on Thursday, May 29, 2003 at 7:52PM :
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat is sending a message that he -- not Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas -- is in charge of peace talks with Israel, countering moves to sideline him and throwing a second Palestinian-Israeli summit into confusion.
The dispute underlined the internal Palestinian power struggle between Arafat and Abbas, whom Arafat grudgingly appointed under international pressure, as efforts to move forward on a new peace plan intensified.
Arafat used the date of the second meeting between Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon as his vehicle. First, Palestinians called off the Wednesday meeting until Arafat had a chance to discuss Israeli proposals with the PLO executive, which he chairs.
After the PLO executive meeting Tuesday evening, Palestinian Cabinet Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo said the Abbas-Sharon meeting would take place on Wednesday as planned.
Then it was Israel's turn to say no.
"There will be no meeting on Wednesday," Sharon aide Raanan Gissin told The Associated Press.
Abbas announced on Wednesday that the meeting would "most likely" take place today.
"But at this point in time it has not been confirmed," Abbas told reporters following a meeting with Spanish Foreign Minister Ana Palacio.
Israel Radio reported that the summit would take place today, but officials in Sharon's office said no date has been set and made no further comment.
A member of the PLO executive, speaking on condition of anonymity, explained that the jockeying for position was Arafat's way of telling the United States, Israel and Abbas that Arafat makes the decisions over negotiations with Israel, using the PLO executive to make the point.
Abbas took office April 30 under a new law that gives the PLO executive the right of approval over negotiating steps with Israel. Arafat controls the PLO body, where Abbas is his deputy.
Arafat has been fighting a rear-guard action to limit Abbas' powers, objecting to the makeup of his Cabinet and inserting many of his stalwarts. He retains control of most of the Palestinian security forces and has kept for himself the final word over peace moves.
This counters the Israeli and U.S. intentions to sideline Arafat, charging that he is tainted with terrorism and had led his Palestinian Authority into corruption and inefficiency.
In an interview with the Israeli daily Haaretz, Abbas spoke out in favor of Arafat. "Arafat is the elected president of the Palestinian Authority and should not be isolated," he said, calling on Israel to release Arafat from a virtual house arrest in his West Bank headquarters.
Sharon and Abbas met on May 17, the first Israeli-Palestinian summit meeting since the violence erupted in September 2000. No agreements emerged.
Meanwhile, officials are arranging a three-way summit with U.S. President George W. Bush, Sharon and Abbas early next month, possibly in Jordan.
Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said Tuesday that concrete results could be expected from the summit.
"The President would not bother coming all the way out here to leave without a decision of some kind," Shalom told Israel TV.
Abed Rabbo said he hoped the trilateral summit would result in implementation of the peace plan, called the "road map."
The plan is sponsored by the so-called "Quartet" -- the United States, European Union, United Nations and Russia. It calls for a halt to nearly 32 months of bloody Palestinian-Israeli violence and leads to a full Palestinian state in 2005.
Israel conditionally accepted the plan on Sunday, a month after the Palestinians approved the formula and insisted that he be implemented unchanged.
On Tuesday, Sharon clarified a comment that caused a stir a day before -- referring to Israeli "occupation" in the West Bank for the first time, a term often used by Palestinians and their dovish Israeli backers.
In a speech, Sharon said he was referring to Palestinians in "disputed" territories -- an attempt to differentiate between the people and the territory, a way of underlining his policy that Israel must retain strategic parts of the West Bank.
"We are not occupiers," he said. "This is the homeland of the Jewish people."
In interview excerpts published late Tuesday on the newspaper's Web site, Abbas said he would not judge Sharon by his statements. "I know Sharon inside and out," said Abbas, who has met Sharon several times. "I'll believe him only when he implements the road map."
Palestinians claim all of the West Bank and Gaza for a state and demand a total Israeli pullout.
At the United Nations, Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Tuesday called Israel's acceptance of the road map "a very encouraging development."
Israel has raised 14 reservations about the plan, including a demand that the United States manage the monitoring of the sides' compliance -- but UN sources noted the reservations do not explicitly exclude a role for the other members of the quartet: Russia, the European Union and the United Nations.
"It is something we will tackle as we move forward," Annan said of the demand.
In West Bank violence on Tuesday, Israeli troops killed a 16-year-old they said was throwing a firebomb. Two children, ages 7 and 9, were critically wounded in clashes with the military, Palestinian hospital officials said.
In Gaza, Palestinians fired salvos of rockets and mortar shells at Jewish settlements and an Israeli town on Tuesday, residents and the military said. No one was hurt.
Two rockets fell in the Israeli town of Sderot, less than one kilometer (half a mile) from the Gaza-Israeli fence, and four mortar shells exploded in the Jewish settlement of Neve Dekalim in southern Gaza.
Jerusalem - The Associated Press
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