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Last Updated: Wednesday, 22 June 2005, 08:27 GMT 09:27 UK
Dashed hopes at Jerusalem summit

By Matthew Price
BBC News, Jerusalem

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas (far left) meets with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (far right)
High expectations had been placed on the meeting in Jerusalem

The first talks between the Israeli and Palestinian leaders in over four months were high on security.

Jerusalem's streets were brought to a standstill, as the roads were cleared for the Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas.

His convoy turned up a side street, and then deposited a large entourage at the front door of the Israeli prime minister's residence.

But if the security was high, so too were expectations.

The US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had been here just two days before, insisting that both sides work together on Israel's plan to pull out of Gaza.

She wanted them to agree concrete details of a co-ordinated plan.

In the end, even she didn't get her way. For over two hours the sides sat face to face.

The Palestinians told the Israelis that they want freedom of movement in and out of Gaza. They want air and sea ports re-opened.

They also want Israel to release their prisoners.

And they want key Palestinian towns handed back to their control.

'Unrealistic conditions'

Israel said that was fine, but first all Palestinian attacks against Israel must stop.

And the devil is in that little word "all".

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon
Mr Sharon's firm stance on security will be popular domestically
Many analysts will tell you that Israel is placing unrealistic conditions on the Palestinian leadership.

While Israel's prime minister insists the problem starts and ends with Palestinian terrorism, the Palestinians see it differently.

They say the attacks against Israel are a result of almost 40 years of occupation of Palestinian lands. So "all" may be a pretty tall order.

After the meeting, Israel put a positive spin on the day. The Palestinians were clearly desperately upset.

Israel had again set the conditions for any movement on some crucial issues.

We expected to hear from the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas. But he didn't appear at a planned press conference.

Instead the prime minister, Ahmed Qurei, turned up, looking drained, and disappointed.

"None of the issues improved or progressed up to what we had expected," he said.

"Overall what was presented to us was not convincing or satisfying at all."

In contrast, Israel's prime minister - tonight guest of honour at a dinner in Jerusalem - was in a better mood.

"We will co-ordinate our withdrawal from Gaza," Ariel Sharon said. "It's better for both sides. But we won't allow withdrawal under fire. We will not stop the pullout. We will stop the terror."

Progress towards wider peace talks "will not be possible until there is a complete end to terrorist attacks," he added.

Politically vulnerable

A complete cessation looks less and less likely at the moment. Over the last few days there have been a number of attacks - and deaths on both sides.

On Monday, a Jewish settler living in the West Bank was shot and killed by Palestinian gunmen.

Shortly before Tuesday's meeting, Israel fired on an empty building in the northern Gaza Strip in what Israeli Army radio said was a failed attempt to kill an Islamic Jihad militant.

PLO chief Mahmoud Abbas
Mr Abbas had hoped to secure more concessions from the Israelis
The army would not comment, but did say there had been Palestinian fire from the area earlier in the day.

Indeed there are those who wonder if the current violence was actually what set the agenda for today's meeting.

Support among the Israeli public for Ariel Sharon's plan is declining. People - even on the left - fear it will worsen not improve Israel's security.

Ariel Sharon - who politically is vulnerable - desperately needs to get people back on side.

So he is speaking the language he knows will win him support.

"No" to the Palestinians, unless they stop the attacks. And if the Palestinians don't, Israel will.

Whatever the pressure from his key ally - the US - to work with the Palestinians, Ariel Sharon possibly felt it was better this day to play to his domestic audience.

And the result seems to have been little progress from an important meeting.


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