JERUSALEM – A disagreement brewed Monday between Israelis and Palestinians over the fate of more than 100 Israeli settlement outposts set up in the West Bank (search) during 32 months of violence.
Other differences -- on how to rein in Palestinian militants and the wording of upcoming summit declarations -- also persisted, underscoring the difficulty of ending the violence despite world pressure.
In a gesture before the summit, Israel (search) released a prominent Palestinian prisoner late Monday. Tayseer Khaled, a member of the PLO (search) executive, was freed from an Israeli lockup in the West Bank, Palestinians and Israeli security sources said.
After a meeting between Israeli and Palestinian prime ministers last week, Israel said it would release Khaled and Ahmad Jubarah, 68, the longest-serving prisoner. The Israeli prisons service said Jubarah would be freed Tuesday.
Wednesday's summit in Jordan marks the official launch of the U.S.-backed "road map" to Mideast peace, a three-year plan that envisions the creation of a Palestinian state by 2005.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon told his Cabinet on Sunday he would likely make a declaration at the summit committing Israel to dismantling settlement outposts set up in violation of Israeli law. Stopping all settlement construction is a key element of the peace plan.
According to the Israeli group Peace Now, there are 102 such outposts, 16 of them uninhabited. About 230,000 Jewish settlers live in 150 other settlements in the West Bank and Gaza. Hard-line Israelis defend settlement-building with religious and security arguments.
Israeli officials said Monday they did not consider all the outposts illegal and would dismantle only the ones not deemed necessary for Israeli security.
Deputy Defense Minister Zeev Boim said Israel would take down up to 10 "flagrantly illegal" outposts during the first stage of the road map, according to the Haaretz newspaper Web site.
Palestinians consider the outposts on West Bank hilltops -- some amounting to no more than an antenna position or a few families in trailers -- as efforts to expand Jewish settlement in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and to create new obstacles to a Palestinian state. They say all Israeli settlements are illegal encroachments on their land.
"Unless the Israelis have a clear and firm intention to freeze settlement activities and dissolve all those illegal settlements ... we will get nowhere," Palestinian Labor Minister Ghassan Khatib said. "These settlements must be dissolved."
Secretary of State Colin Powell said Monday the settlements would likely be discussed at the summit.
"I think it's well understood that the outposts are not there properly and will have to be removed," Powell said at a news conference in Italy.
Officials from both sides said Monday the Israelis and the Palestinians will make separate declarations at the summit. They said they could not agree on a joint declaration because the Palestinians would not recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
The Palestinians fear such a recognition would mean abandoning their call for Israel to allow Palestinian refugees and their descendants -- about 4 million people altogether -- to return to former homes in Israel, according to Palestinian officials.
Israel has repeatedly said it would not recognize the so-called Palestinian "right of return," which could wipe out the Jewish majority in Israel.
However, an Israeli official said Sharon would issue a declaration Wednesday accepting the principle that a Palestinian state should be set up -- a remarkable about-face for the prime minister, who has spent decades fighting the Palestinians and opposing the return of land to the Arabs.
The Palestinians said it did not matter whether there was one statement or separate declarations.
"What is important is the content of the statements," Khatib said. The road map calls for separate declarations as a first step, with each side recognizing the other's right to statehood and security.
In Jordan ahead of the summit, Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas told King Abdullah II, "the Palestinian leadership is committed to implementing its part of the road map and calls on Israel to do the same," according to the Jordanian news agency.
Powell said U.S. officials working on the final statements were "encouraged by what they have been able to achieve so far."
As the summit approached, Abbas continued working to secure a cease-fire on attacks against Israelis by militant groups like Hamas. While Israel demands a crackdown, including arrest of Hamas militants, Abbas prefers to negotiate a truce.
"This is up to the Palestinian government to choose the mechanisms and methods of reaching this goal," Khatib said. "The Israeli government does not have the right to give orders or directions on how to deal with our people."
The senior Israeli official said Israel understands Abbas may need time to organize his forces, and Israel would probably accept a cease-fire for now, as long as it is followed by disarming the militant groups.
Meanwhile, the Israeli army sealed off the West Bank town of Ramallah on Monday evening. The army said it had multiple warnings of terror attacks originating from the town.
The army also tried to enforce a curfew, but youths responded by throwing stones and the army abandoned its effort after firing rubber-coated steel pellets at the crowds, witnesses said.
Israel had begun easing travel restrictions Sunday in the West Bank and Gaza as part of a pre-summit gesture. On Monday, it allowed 10,000 Palestinian workers to cross into Israel, according to Israel Radio.