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Barak heeds Rice call, reverses course to back PA border plan

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    Barak heeds Rice call, reverses course to back PA border plan By Barak Ravid and Avi Issacharoff, Haaretz Correspondents Last update - 01:43 01/04/2008
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 31, 2008
      Barak heeds Rice call, reverses course to back PA border plan
      By Barak Ravid and Avi Issacharoff, Haaretz Correspondents Last update -
      01:43 01/04/2008
      www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/970371.html

      Defense Minister Ehud Barak softened his opposition Monday to a proposal to
      transfer control of the border crossings between the Gaza Strip and Israel
      to representatives of the Palestinian Authority government headed by Salam
      Fayyad. The change, made at the request of U.S. Secretary of State
      Condoleezza Rice, is considered a major shift in Israel's policy on this
      matter.

      "When conditions have matured in the future for an end to the Qassam rockets
      and the terrorism and a lessening of the smuggling of weapons from Sinai
      into the Strip, we will be willing to consider easing the situation at the
      crossings into Gaza through cooperation with representatives of the Fayyad
      government," said the statement issued by his office.

      A senior Israeli government source said that the change in Barak's position
      is probably also related to the discussions that Amos Gilad, head of the
      Defense Ministry's political-security bureau, is holding in Egypt on a
      "package deal" that would include a halt to rocket attacks from Gaza,
      containment of the arms smuggling into Gaza and reopening the border
      crossings.

      Rice and Barak discussed the crossings and the general situation in Gaza
      during their meeting in Jerusalem on Sunday, and again at a tripartite
      meeting that included PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. She repeated her
      request that the defense establishment soften its stance on the border
      crossings and look favorably on Fayyad's proposal to transfer control of
      them to PA government officials. Rice also asked Barak to issue a public
      statement on this matter.

      The defense minister agreed, and following a meeting with the visiting Czech
      defense minister Monday, his office issued its statement.

      The statement was unusual in itself, because until now, Barak has avoided
      public statements about the crossings in general and the Fayyad proposal in
      particular.

      Fayyad has been promoting his proposal for opening the Gaza crossings for
      several months, and has received broad support from the international
      community, especially the United States. According to his proposal, PA
      officials who are affiliated with neither Hamas nor Fatah would assume
      responsibility for the crossings and reopen them for use, possibly with
      international assistance.

      Opening the crossings to regular transfers of goods would improve the lot of
      the civilians in Gaza. In addition, Fayyad's proposal would enable the PA to
      gradually return to the Strip, for the first time since it lost control of
      it to Hamas in June last year.

      But despite American and PA requests, the Israeli defense establishment
      adopted a tough stance toward the Fayyad proposal, arguing that it would
      ultimately serve to bolster Hamas. Thus Barak's statement Monday is
      considered to be a significant reversal in Israeli policy on this matter,
      and most likely stemmed from U.S. pressure.

      Ironically, Israeli sources noted, the defense establishment's strong
      opposition has made Fayyad begin to have doubts about the plan himself. And
      the situation has been further complicated by the absence of complete accord
      on this issue between Fayyad and PA President Mahmoud Abbas.

      Meanwhile, Abbas announced Monday that he intends to meet Prime Minister
      Ehud Olmert on April 7, thereby ending the hiatus in their regular biweekly
      meetings that followed the intense fighting in the Gaza Strip nearly six
      weeks ago.

      During a press conference with Rice in the Jordanian capital of Amman, Abbas
      added that he believes it is possible to reach a comprehensive peace
      agreement with Israel in 2008.

      Rice also met Monday with the heads of both sides' negotiating teams,
      Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and former Palestinian prime minister Ahmed
      Qureia. The two briefed the secretary of state on developments and
      difficulties in the talks and discussed ways of expediting the negotiations
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