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Last Updated: Saturday, 10 May, 2003, 00:37 GMT 01:37 UK
Stern test for US initiative

By Nick Thorpe
BBC News, Jerusalem

Until last week, Mustafa Abu Sway, a Professor of Islamic Studies at Al Quds University, clambered over a concrete wall on the Mount of Olives to get to work.

Israeli soldiers escort Palestinians found trying to illegally cross from the West Bank into Israel
Powell's talks will be watched by many Palestinians through the barbed wire
It was not very comfortable, but he, and thousands of other Palestinians in East Jerusalem, got used to it.

But suddenly double coils of barbed wire were installed on top of the wall.

Each day, he walks a few hundred metres further, to find a stretch which has not been covered yet.

His brother, trying to reach his workplace in another part of the city, has to drive 10 extra miles.

The city, like the rest of the country, is being increasingly separated from the West Bank by an Israeli government determined to stop suicide bombers from entering.

This is war. We have no choice but to fight
Israeli man
"We are living in small cages. Ramallah is a small cage, Jericho is a small cage. Bethlehem, Nablus, the Gaza strip, Hebron... we don't have the freedom to move from one place to another anymore."

Other Palestinians say that loss, alongside the loss of agricultural land, the continued growth of settlements, and high unemployment will discredit the new Palestinian Government of Mahmoud Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen. And increase support for the militants.

US Secretary of State Colin Powell's talks in Israel and the occupied territories this weekend will be watched by millions of Palestinians through a veil of barbed wire.

'Champion of settlers'

Israelis too have reservations.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon
Sharon's tough stance has support among many Israelis

At celebrations to mark the 55th anniversary of the foundation of the state this week, party-goers in one West Jerusalem neighbourhood sighed deeply when asked about the chances of peace.

Many of those present supported the 1993 Oslo accords.

Most had voted for the Labour Party in the past, because of its policy of negotiations with the Palestinian leadership. But not any more.

Labour plunged to their worst ever defeat in January's election.

And Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, the champion of the settlers, is supported by many Israelis as the only politician tough enough to stand up to the suicide bombers.

With fences, walls, army incursions. And the targeted killing of suspected militants, even as they drive their cars along the crowded streets of Gaza.

'No choice'

"This is war," said one young reveller, a former soldier in the Golani brigade of the Israeli army, and the only person present carrying a handgun.

Israelis celebrate the 55th anniversary of the foundation of their state
Many Israelis are sceptical about the chances of a peaceful settlement

"We have no choice but to fight."

One big question hanging over Colin Powell's visit this weekend is just how much pressure this US administration, his greatest supporter in the recent past, will be willing to put on Mr Sharon now.

"For real peace, we will have to give up a lot," Mr Sharon told an Israeli TV interviewer on the eve of the visit... but I will never sacrifice the security of Israeli citizens."

Just what he might be willing to surrender alarms some of the 200,000 settlers who have occupied land in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, often with Mr Sharon's support, since the 1967 war.

But not all.

"Ariel Sharon is very much influenced, not only by [US President George W] Bush and [UK Prime Minister Tony] Blair, but also by us," said Daniella Weiss, mayor of the settlement at Kedumim, west of Nablus.

"Thousands and thousands of people... express their love, their absolute loyalty to the land... I believe finally he will go with us, and not with Bush."

US team

Abu Mazen, the new Prime Minister of a Palestinian state which does not yet exist, says he fully supports the "road map".

US Secretary of State Colin Powell
Powell's team will monitor the "road map" plan implementation

Mr Sharon has raised 15 objections to it, which he will be putting to Colin Powell when they meet on Sunday.

A state department team, expected to play a central role in monitoring any implementation of the new plan, will accompany the secretary of state, and is expected to stay on in Israel.

Israeli officials say the monitors must oversee efforts by Abu Mazen and his security chief, Mohammed Dahlan, to fight the militants.

Palestinian leaders say they will not provoke civil war within their own camp, and insist that the monitors also oversee the Israeli withdrawal from West Bank towns, and the freeze of the growth of the settlements.


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