NYT – The first Palestinian prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas, clashed with Yasir Arafat and other Palestinian officials over his efforts to reorganize the Palestinian security services, while advisers to the Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon, said Mr. Sharon was unlikely to proceed with the plan until he brought his objections to President Bush in a meeting in late May or early June.
The Bush administration is pushing for action on the plan, known as the road map. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell is expected to arrive here over the weekend, for the first time in more than a year, to press for its fulfillment.
A senior Israeli official said disagreements were likely to arise between the Israelis and Palestinians that “should be brought to the White House.” He said any delay was “not an attempt by Israel to stall or postpone” the plan, which envisions a comprehensive peace and a Palestinian state in three years.
Mr. Sharon is seeking significant changes, and today he took what seemed to be a veiled swipe at the plan, saying true peace would not come “in useless formulations that are not connected with reality, but with determination and sober thinking.” He spoke at a somber ceremony for Israel’s civilian victims of terrorism as part of the observance of Memorial Day, which honors the terror victims as well as Israel’s war dead.
At 11 a.m., the country was brought to a halt for two minutes by air raid sirens marking the memorial. On King George Street in downtown Jerusalem, two elderly men in uniforms climbed slowly from a stopped car and saluted, one of them with a trembling hand.
Palestinian officials said that they had already taken steps to carry out the peace plan, like creating the position of prime minister, and that Israel should follow suit.
“We’ve already met many of our obligations, and we’re coming up with strategies to meet the others,” said Michael Tarazi, a legal adviser to the negotiations department of the Palestine Liberation Organization. “Israel still has yet to accept the road map, let alone implement it.”
But Mr. Abbas is running into difficulty as he tries to take control of the more than a dozen Palestinian security agencies. In forming his government, he sought to give the Interior Ministry, which at least nominally oversees the security agencies, to Muhammad Dahlan, who is favored by Israel and the United States as willing and able to crack down on terrorism.
But Mr. Arafat and the central committee of his Fatah faction blocked the appointment. Israeli officials and some Palestinian officials say Mr. Arafat wants to keep control. In a compromise, Mr. Dahlan was appointed “state minister for security affairs.” On Monday, Mr. Abbas said he was transferring the Interior Ministry’s authority over security to Mr. Dahlan. Mr. Arafat and central committee members angrily objected to what they saw as an end run, Palestinian officials said.
A senior Palestinian official said late tonight that Mr. Abbas had reached a new compromise with Mr. Arafat, under which Mr. Dahlan would be given responsibility for specific missions and for sectors of security but not overall authority for the security forces.
The peace plan calls for simultaneous concessions by both sides to return them to the negotiating table for the first time in more than two years. But Mr. Sharon insists that the Palestinians dismantle terrorist groups before Israel begins to make its concessions, which under the plan are to include easing restrictions on Palestinians, freezing settlement construction and uprooting settlement outposts built since March 2001.
Mr. Abbas is trying to reach a truce with Hamas and other violent groups and persuade them to give up their weapons, but the groups have so far rejected his proposals. Israeli officials say a mere truce would only give the groups time to rearm.
In a sign of the challenge Mr. Abbas faces, a group linked to Fatah, Al Aksa Martyrs Brigades, claimed responsibility for a shooting attack overnight Monday on a car in the West Bank. An Israeli settler was killed and his 6-year-old daughter was wounded, as was another passenger.
Mr. Sharon has several other significant objections to the plan. In exchange for agreeing that a Palestinian state will be created, Mr. Sharon demands that early in the process, Palestinians relinquish a “right of return” to what is now Israel for refugees from the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. Zalman Shoval, an adviser to Mr. Sharon, called the absence of that requirement “a fundamental disequilibrium” in the plan.
Palestinians regard the right of return as a fundamental principle, or as a critical bargaining lever for final talks, but Israelis consider it a challenge to Israel’s existence as a Jewish state. According to the plan, the issue is supposed to be resolved in the last of three phases, together with the status of Jerusalem and other matters.
The solemnity of Memorial Day gave way to fireworks tonight as Israel began celebrations of its 55th Independence Day. Next week, Palestinians will mark what they call the Nakba, or catastrophe, of Israel’s founding.
Most of the ministers in Mr. Sharon’s government belong to parties that formally reject creating a Palestinian state west of the Jordan River. One minister, Benny Elon, went to the United States last week to advocate creating a Palestinian state in Jordan, not in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. That move brought a strong rebuke from Mr. Sharon, who has said he accepts the idea of an eventual Palestinian state.
In a radio interview tonight, when asked if he expected the backing of his government for proceeding with the peace plan, Mr. Sharon said he had made his views clear before Israelis overwhelmingly returned him to office in January. “I never concealed my beliefs,” he said.
The plan was drawn up by the so-called Quartet of the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia. But Mr. Sharon wants to minimize the role of the Americans’ allies, regarding them as biased against Israel.
“There are parties in the Quartet who were not particularly helpful in dealing with the Iraq crisis,” said Dore Gold, another Sharon adviser.
In the radio interview today, Mr. Sharon said he would be happy to meet with Mr. Abbas, who has said he wants to meet with Mr. Sharon. That could occur as soon as next week, officials said.
Earlier today, the Israeli news media reported that an Alitalia pilot upset passengers when, before landing in Tel Aviv, he declared, “Welcome to Palestine, happy Independence Day to Palestine.”