June 24, 2007 / 8:38 AM / 12 years ago

Israel cautious on West Bank moves ahead of summit

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel is reluctant to remove roadblocks and other West Bank restrictions to boost Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s new government until he does more to curb militants, officials said ahead of a summit on Monday.

Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni (L) attend the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem June 24, 2007. REUTERS/David Silverman/Pool

The summit between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Abbas in Egypt follows an Israeli decision on Sunday to transfer hundreds of millions of dollars to Abbas’s government, formed after a violent takeover of the Gaza Strip by Islamist Hamas.

After its accord on the funds, Israel is resisting U.S. pressure for it to uproot major roadblocks, checkpoints and outposts in the Israeli-occupied West Bank until Abbas reins in militants more effectively, the Israeli officials said.

Olmert was expected at the summit in the Red Sea Resort of Sharm el-Sheikh to outline at least some of the measures he would be prepared to take to bolster Abbas’s emergency government in the West Bank.

Monday’s talks, which will include Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Jordan’s King Abdullah, will be the first since Hamas routed Abbas’s Fatah forces and seized control of the Gaza Strip more than a week ago.

Abbas responded to Gaza’s takeover by sacking the unity government led by Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas and by quickly forming an emergency government in the West Bank backed by the United States, the European Union and key Arab allies.

Olmert said on Sunday he would present security demands to Abbas. Israel’s goal is to isolate Hamas economically, diplomatically and militarily in the Gaza Strip, while allowing funds to flow to Abbas’s new administration in the West Bank.

Olmert’s cabinet on Sunday agreed to start unfreezing hundreds of millions of dollars in Palestinian tax revenues to help finance the emergency government.

Olmert aides said he would be prepared to take additional steps but offered few details.

TALKS “FRAMEWORK”

Olmert’s spokeswoman Miri Eisin said the summit would focus broadly on the “framework” for talks with Abbas going forward: “That means talking on the political level about an independent (Palestinian) state as a clear-cut goal of the moderates.”

Washington has asked Olmert to take concrete steps to help Abbas, such as easing restrictions on Palestinian access to the Jordan Valley, as well as removing major barriers, checkpoints and roadblocks near major Palestinian population centers, including Hebron, Bethlehem and Nablus.

But an Israeli official involved in Israel’s inter-agency deliberations said: “We’re not giving any of that upfront.”

“We want to be realistic,” the senior official said. “The security posts are a risk for us. We live in the Middle East. We can respect the ideal of democracy but we live in reality ... One suicide bombing and we’re back to square one.”

Another senior Israeli official said Olmert wanted to be sure that Abbas had no plans to reconcile with Hamas.

“We’re not going back to another unity government,” an Israeli official said.

Abbas has sharply attacked Hamas Islamists in recent days and Fatah has cracked down on the group’s members and organizations in the West Bank.

If Abbas takes additional steps to combat militants and to consolidate the emergency government’s security control over the West Bank, a senior Israeli official said, “Israel would be willing to take extra risks and go further”.

These extra risks could include uprooting dozens of Israeli outposts and giving Abbas’s security forces control over strategic areas of the occupied West Bank, officials said.

Hamas won parliamentary elections 18 months ago but its government was shunned by Israel and Western powers for refusing to renounce violence and recognize Israel.

Israel plans to cut off all but humanitarian aid and basic services to step up pressure on Hamas in its Gaza stronghold. Haniyeh vowed on Sunday the group’s economic isolation would not force it to give up power.

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