Published January 13, 2015
Israelis and Palestinians argued publicly Monday over how to stop 31 months of violence, while a top U.S. envoy urged them to work out their differences as part of their support for a new peace plan.
Ending Palestinian attacks and easing the Israeli military chokehold on the West Bank and Gaza Strip are key points of the first phase of the internationally backed plan, the so-called "road map" to Palestinian statehood within three years.
But the violence continued despite the moves toward peace. After nightfall Monday, Palestinians opened fire on a car in the West Bank between Ramallah and Jericho, killing an Israeli and wounding his 6-year-old daughter and another passenger, the military and rescue workers said.
The new Palestinian prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas, has said he will try to persuade militant groups, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad, to stop attacks against Israelis. So far the militants have refused to lay down their arms.
Israel demands stiff action, such as arresting militant leaders and disarming gunmen.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said Monday that stopping violence must be Abbas' first priority. "If they do this, in my view we can reach a situation where we will have almost no terror," he said, adding that Israel would continue its own war against the militant groups.
Israeli troops have hunted down Palestinian militants, reoccupied most West Bank towns and arrested thousands. Palestinians demand that Israel stop these measures.
The dispute over how to deal with the militias is a sign of the deep mistrust between the two sides as international mediators -- the United States, European Union, United Nations and Russia -- try to promote their peace program.
The plan was presented to Israeli and Palestinian leaders last week, immediately after Abbas took power. The decision to wait until Abbas was installed underscored Washington's refusal to deal with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
The U.S. envoy, Assistant Secretary of State William Burns, met separately Monday with Abbas and Palestinian Parliament Speaker Ahmed Qureia, but snubbed Arafat.
Qureia said the Palestinians and Israel have different ideas about how to deal with militants: "The Israeli understanding, which calls for a (Palestinian) civil war ... and there is a Palestinian understanding based on dialogue and the Palestinian national interest.
In coordination with Abbas, Egypt plans to renew its sponsorship of talks with the armed groups, including Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade linked to the Fatah movement, Palestinian and Egyptian officials said. The first meetings are tentatively set for next week.
Similar talks held earlier this year ended with Hamas and Islamic Jihad rejecting Egypt's proposal of a one-year cease-fire. However, there was some expectation of a different outcome this time because of growing U.S. pressure on Arab countries to stop supporting militant groups.
Burns called on the two sides to settle their disagreements and move on.
"On the Palestinian side, there is absolutely no substitute for a decisive fight against terror and violence. On the Israeli side, it also means taking practical steps to ease the suffering of Palestinians living under occupation, to stop settlement activities and to renew a sense of dignity and hope," he said.
In another development, a Tel Aviv court sentenced a Palestinian militia leader to 14 life terms in prison for his part in attacks against Israelis.
The defendant, Nasser Awais, 33, is the most senior Palestinian convicted by an Israeli civil court since the current round of violence began in September 2000. Most suspected militants are tried by Israeli military tribunals.
Israeli prosecutors have said Awais is a top aide to Barghouti, a Palestinian uprising leader charged with orchestrating attacks that killed 26 Israelis. The highest Palestinian official in Israeli custody, Barghouti insists Israel has no jurisdiction over him.
Awais testified at Barghouti's trial Monday and charged that Israeli security agents, and not he, wrote his confession regarding his ties with Barghouti.
Also Monday, about 20 Israeli settlers moved back into an illegal West Bank settlement outpost dismantled by the army last month, said Itamar Ben-Gvir, a well-known Israeli extremist. Last month, Israeli soldiers mistakenly killed two Israeli security guards at the site, thinking they were Palestinian terrorists.
Ben Gvir said settlers returned to the outpost to send a message to U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, due for talks with Israeli and Palestinian officials next week, that there must be no land concessions to the Palestinians.
As part of the road map, Israel is to dismantle dozens of illegal outposts erected since March 2001.