Israel: No Peace Until Militants Stopped

A Palestinian man walks with a donkey with the Dome of the Rock Mosque in the Al Aqsa Mosque compound in the background, in Jerusalem’s Old City Sunday Dec. 30, 2007. Days after two Israeli hikers were gunned down in the West Bank, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Sunday warned the Palestinians that Israel would not carry out any peace moves until they cracked down on militant groups. (AP Photo/Alvaro Barrientos)

“Behold, I will make Jerusalem a cup of trembling unto all the people round about, when they shall be in the siege both against Judah and against Jerusalem.”
Zechariah 12:2

JERUSALEM (AP) Furious over the killing of two Israelis hiking in the West Bank, Israel’s prime minister said Sunday that no peace will come until Palestinians crack down on militants, a declaration that clouds a coming visit by President Bush.

To clear the way for Bush to push for progress, the two sides had just agreed to paper over another spat: Israel’s plan to build 307 new apartments in a Jewish neighborhood in east Jerusalem, the section claimed by the Palestinians.

But that was before the shooting of two off-duty Israeli soldiers Friday by Palestinian attackers, in a valley near the West Bank city of Hebron. There were two claims of responsibility: one from Hamas and Islamic Jihad; the other from Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, which has ties to Abbas’ Fatah movement.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, speaking before the weekly meeting of Israel’s Cabinet, denounced the hikers’ shooting deaths.

“As long as the Palestinian Authority doesn’t take the necessary steps and act with the necessary vigor against terror organizations, Israel won’t be able to carry out any change that would expose it to any jeopardy or endanger Israel’s security,” he said.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, however, saw the talks as an answer to violence. “To address this issue between Palestinians and Israelis, we need the resumption of a meaningful peace process,” Erekat said.

Israel’s demand for a crackdown on Palestinian militants derives from the internationally backed “road map” peace plan, the agreed basis for the talks. The road map requires dismantling militant groups and Israel has long demanded that such a crackdown precede implementation of any peace accords.

Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had pledged to restart peace talks at Bush’s Mideast conference last month in Annapolis, Md., aiming for a peace agreement by the end of 2008. But periodic crises are already hampering the efforts.
There have been two meetings of negotiating teams and one Olmert-Abbas summit since the Annapolis conference. After debating Israeli settlement policy and Jerusalem construction, the two sides have agreed to start tackling the main issues the status of Jerusalem, fate of Palestinian refugees and final borders, disputes that have stymied years of peace efforts.
Yasser Abed Rabbo, an aide to Abbas, said Sunday the Palestinians decided to gloss over the dispute about Jerusalem construction to keep the Israelis from blaming them for a stalemate.

“We will not give the Israelis a pretext to claim that the peace process has failed due to the Palestinian boycott, not due to their settlement activities,” he told a meeting of West Bank intellectuals in Ramallah.

Abed Rabbo said a Palestinian delegation would head to Washington this week for talks to prepare for Bush’s visit, set to begin Jan. 8. Bush is hoping for significant progress toward peace between Israel and the Palestinians as a mark of success for his foreign policy.

In keeping with the road map, the Palestinians demand a complete halt to construction in Israel’s West Bank settlements. Israel claims the right to build inside the settlements without expanding them and does not accept a building ban in Jerusalem.
The Friday killings brought a call from Israeli Cabinet Minister Eli Yishai to halt the peace talks altogether. Yishai’s hawkish Shas Party represents Orthodox Jews of Mideast origin.

While pursuing peace with Abbas’ government, Israel has stepped up military pressure on militants in the Gaza Strip.
On Sunday, Israeli troops opened fire militants planting explosives near the Israeli border in southern Gaza, the army said. Hamas said one member was killed.

Israel also said it was taking the threats of Osama bin Laden seriously a day after the al-Qaida leader vowed to expand his terror group’s holy war to Israel.

Most of the 56-minute audiotape tape released Saturday dealt with Iraq, but bin Laden also offered an unusually direct attack on Israel, threatening “blood for blood, destruction for destruction.”

Olmert’s spokesman, Mark Regev, said al-Qaida operatives have been inching closer to Israel in recent years, and Israel is aware of the danger.

“Israel takes bin Laden’s threats seriously. We have seen al-Qaida activity to the north of Israel, in Lebanon, to the east of Israel, in Jordan, and to the south of Israel, in Sinai,” he said. “There is also evidence of al-Qaida activities in the Palestinian territories. As a result, we will be irresponsible not to take this rhetoric seriously.”

Palestinians deny that al-Qaida operatives operate in their territories.

Also, the European Union condemned what it called an “abuse of humanitarian aid” after sacks of a chemical used to make bombs were discovered by the Israeli military in packages disguised as EU sugar.

The sacks, confiscated in the West Bank several weeks ago, contained 6.5 tons of potassium nitrate, a chemical Israel has outlawed because it can be used to manufacture explosives, the military said.

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