- The Washington Times - Monday, October 10, 2005

JERUSALEM — An Israeli-Palestinian summit was called off at the last minute yesterday, a sign that Israel’s Gaza pullout has failed so far to create the hoped-for momentum toward peace.

The meeting, set tentatively for today, stumbled over day-to-day issues, such as Israel’s release of Palestinian prisoners and the turnover of West Bank towns to Palestinian control.

The meeting was to have been the first between Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas since Israel completed its Gaza Strip withdrawal last month.

“There was not enough preparation for this summit … to be held tomorrow,” Palestinian official Nabil Abu Rdeneh said. “So, it has been postponed until the end of the month, or the beginning of next month.”

That means it would not come until after Mr. Abbas visits Washington for talks with President Bush on Oct. 20. The Palestinian leader would have preferred to take summit achievements with him.

In a joint statement, the two sides said they would continue meeting in committees to try to resolve the disputes.

“We regret that the summit that was planned … will not take place tomorrow, but we hope that it will take place in the near future,” Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said at the start of a meeting with visiting Assistant Secretary of State David Welsh.

Although Israel and the Palestinians both would benefit from a summit showing progress toward peace, Israel balked at making gestures it said would harm its security.

The Palestinians want Israel to honor its commitment to turn over four West Bank towns now under Israeli military control. Also, they want Israel to free some of the more than 7,000 Palestinian prisoners it is holding.

Israel is prepared in principle to free some prisoners, but has not been specific, Palestinian Cabinet Minister Sufian Abu Zaydeh said.

“Israel is talking in general, not talking about numbers and criteria. That’s not enough for the Palestinians,” Mr. Abu Zaydeh said.

“The issue of the prisoners is one of the most important issues in terms of Palestinian public opinion,” he said. Mr. Abbas “would have a lot of difficulty meeting with Sharon without having convincing answers.”

Growing chaos in the Palestinian territories, including the rise of militant groups, is threatening Mr. Abbas’ rule. Some argue that Israeli gestures such as prisoner releases can help prop up the Palestinian leader and enable him to better confront those challenges.

Raanan Gissin, an official in Mr. Sharon’s office, said Israel was considering releasing some prisoners involved in attacks, but the details would have to be worked out in a joint committee.

He said it was unrealistic to try to wrap up years of conflict in one move.

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