JERUSALEM – The United States should press Israel for a firm schedule of peace moves, a Palestinian official said Tuesday ahead of White House talks between Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas (search) and President Bush (search) in a new U.S. effort for progress in the "road map" peace plan.
Tentative steps toward stopping 33 months of violence and achieving peace have been overwhelmed by complaints and demands by each side against the other.
Late Tuesday, Palestinians said Israeli forces entered the Bureij refugee camp in central Gaza and took three Palestinians away. The Israeli military said it stopped three youths trying to cross the border fence and released them after interrogation, without entering Palestinian territory.
Also, Palestinian public security commander Maj. Gen. Abdel Razek Majaide said Israeli soldiers entered eastern Gaza City and fired rifles. The Israeli military said that soldiers had not entered Palestinian territory or opened fire.
In the Israeli Arab town of Taibeh, angry residents rioted after police warned to be on the lookout for a Palestinian attacker shot dead a driver who ignored an order to pull over. A passenger fled on foot, said police spokesman Gil Kleiman, who identified the dead man only as a local resident who had no driver's license.
No weapons or explosives were found in the vehicle, and media reports described the dead man as having a criminal record.
Bush is to meet Abbas on Friday, while Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (search) holds talks with the president on July 29. Bush is expected to press both to take the steps outlined in the road map, which foresees a Palestinian state by 2005.
Despite a dramatic reduction in violence and Israeli troop pullbacks from a few areas, key road map provisions have been ignored: Israel has not frozen settlement construction and removed West Bank outposts. Abbas has not disarmed militant groups, and militants who declared a three-month moratorium on attacks say they will resume unless Israel releases thousands of Palestinian prisoners.
Friday's meeting will highlight the first visit by a Palestinian leader to the Bush White House, as Bush has been boycotting Yasser Arafat and pushed hard for Abbas' appointment to the newly created premier's position in April.
Palestinians say Abbas must leave Washington with achievements. His political position is becoming tenuous, and critics say he has few concrete gains to show for nearly three months of intense contacts with Sharon's government.
"It's essential for Bush to send (Abbas) back with a comprehensive implementation plan ... especially timelines and monitors," said Palestinian legislator Saeb Erekat. "The whole situation is fragile."
However, the sides disagree over basic questions of how to read the road map.
The official State Department version of the plan is labeled a "performance-based road map to a permanent two-state solution" -- implying, as Israel claims, that obligations must be fulfilled as a condition for progress.
Among Palestinian obligations is "dismantlement of terrorist capabilities and infrastructure (including) confiscation of illegal weapons." Israel sees this as requiring a forceful disarming of the militants; the Palestinians say it is a delicate and difficult matter, and they should be allowed time to use persuasion.
The road map also says steps by each side must be implemented in parallel -- while Israel says it is understood the dismantling of militant groups must precede any further moves. The United States has yet to take a clear position on this.
The plan doesn't deal with the estimated 7,700 Palestinian prisoners held by Israel on charges of involvement in terrorism, but the Palestinians say that releasing them is essential to giving the process credibility with their people.
Israel says that while the Palestinians delay, the violent groups are using the truce to regroup and rearm -- and a mass prisoner release would only replenish their ranks.
"The time has come that the Palestinians fulfill their obligations ... to dismantle the terror infrastructure and stop the incitement" to violence, Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom told Israel Radio Tuesday.
But Abbas, after meeting Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa in Cairo on Tuesday, said that "cracking down on Hamas, (Islamic) Jihad and the Palestinian organizations is not an option at all."
If the sides get past this deadlock, the second phase of the road map, which is supposed to start by the end of the year, foresees a provisional Palestinian state with temporary borders. A third stage in 2005 would address final borders, the future of settlers and refugees, and Jerusalem.
Sharon and Abbas held an inconclusive meeting on Sunday, resulting in Israeli promises to consider Palestinian demands, but no actual steps.
In one possible sign of movement, Israeli officials on Wednesday are to go over lists of Palestinian prisoners to be released; the Palestinian cabinet minister for prisoners is supposed to take part in the process for the first time.
The Palestinian Cabinet minister in charge of prisoners, Hisham Abdel Razeq, met with Israeli officials late Tuesday, but he said the meeting was a failure because the Israelis did not give him the names of prisoners they planned to release or the criteria used to select them.
Israel earlier freed 280 prisoners and has agreed to release a few hundred more, but no further releases are expected until after the Washington summits.
Abbas met Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on Monday and was also due to meet Jordan's King Abdullah before heading to the United States. Egypt and Jordan, the only two of Israel's Arab neighbors who have peace treaties with the Jewish state, are seen as key regional mediators.
Saudi Arabia also threw its weight behind peace moves as on Monday Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud told reporters that he had no doubts about American commitment to the road map.
No weapons or explosives were found in the vehicle, and media reports described the dead man as having a criminal record. Outraged residents of the town threw rocks at police.