- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 29, 2007

JENIN, West Bank — An unprecedented rescue by Palestinian police of an Israeli soldier from a West Bank lynch mob helped preserve an Israeli-Palestinian summit yesterday that dealt with “core issues” for the first time in years.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert emerged upbeat from a meeting in Jerusalem with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, calling their talks “very positive” and “constructive.”

“These core issues have to be discussed on the way to finding a diplomatic solution of two states for two peoples,” an official in Mr. Olmert’s office quoted the Israeli leader as saying, according to the Associated Press.

Three contentious issues have bedeviled peacemaking efforts for decades: the fate of Palestinian refugees, the status of Jerusalem and the boundaries of a Palestinian nation.

With talks under way to reach the outline of a two-state solution ahead of a U.S.-sponsored regional peace meeting in the fall, the two leaders are expected to meet again soon.



Yesterday’s Olmert-Abbas summit almost certainly would have been canceled and the peace process frozen had it not been for the Palestinian police a day earlier.

When an Israeli soldier strayed into the heart of Jenin on Monday, he faced a hail of stones and bottles and chants of “kill him.” Local police officers, joined by benevolent bystanders, responded by whisking the soldier to the safety of the city’s police headquarters.

The rescue gave the Israelis a rare opportunity yesterday to praise growing security cooperation with the Palestinians.

“First of all, the prime minister thanked the president for saving the life of the soldier,” said David Baker, a spokesman for Mr. Olmert. “They spoke about strengthening Abbas’ security forces, in order for them to be able to take control of their territory.”

At Jenin’s security headquarters, partially in rubble because of Israeli attacks at the height of the Palestinian uprising, the wayward army officer was given coffee and allowed to call his commanders. Within a half-hour, the officer was returned to a nearby Israeli army base.

“They would have killed him. It would have led to war,” said Hisham Samerouh, an officer with the Palestinian Authority’s preventative security division who helped return the Israeli officer. “That’s the reason we did our best possible to get him out of the city.”

The incident offered a chilling reminder of the lynching of two Israeli reservists near a Ramallah police station in October 2000.

Bystanders in Jenin said yesterday they were also thinking of the fallout from the June 2006 kidnapping of Gilad Shalit, which drew Israel’s military into Gaza.

After seeing dozens of locals crowding around a white Renault parked across from Jenin’s great mosque, street vendor Iyad Sadiqeh said he ran over and found himself fending off residents before police arrived.

“I put my hand up and said, ‘Don’t hurt him,’ ” said Mr. Sadiqeh, who runs a curbside chicken pie stand. “From a patriotic view, I wanted to save him.”

The renewed security cooperation hasn’t included the joint patrols that existed before the latest Palestinian uprising, but Palestinian officers report they have been allowed a wider area to police.

Most critically, Israel and the Palestinians are trying to implement a plan to offer amnesty for fugitive Palestinian gunmen who agree to give up their weapons.

Analysts credited the security cooperation with creating an atmosphere that allowed Mr. Olmert and Mr. Abbas to discuss substantive political issues yesterday.

“One of the things that enabled the progress is the extremely serious way in which the Palestinians were handling security cooperation,” said Gershon Baskin, co-director of the Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information.

Palestinian anger over the Israeli occupation won’t go away any time soon. Even though the Israeli officer escaped, his car was torched by Jenin locals.

Jenin residents said the violence was driven by anger over the Israeli army’s killing of fugitives in the city center just a few days previous.

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