Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Mideast Leaders Launch Fresh Talks

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Mideast Leaders Launch Fresh Talks

Article excerpt

The Palestinian crowd surrounded the Israeli military officer who had taken a wrong turn and found himself lost in the West Bank city of Jenin, a place whose name is synonymous with bad blood between Israelis and Palestinians.

Palestinian security officers pushed past people tossing rocks and bottles and shouting "kill him," grabbed the Israeli, and hustled him off to the safety of their headquarters, where he was given some coffee and a phone to call his commanding officer.

In another context, this might just be a local story. But it became headline news Tuesday - and is breathing a small whiff of optimism into the atmosphere as Israeli and Palestinian leaders set about giving peace another chance.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas met Tuesday in Jerusalem, one in a series of meetings the two have planned ahead of the US-sponsored international peace conference to be held in November in the United States.

But even as some celebrated this apparent boost to Israeli- Palestinian security cooperation, others warned that more measures are needed to improve conditions under which the Palestinian Authority (PA) is operating - allowing PA forces, for example, to move more freely in the West Bank.

Abdullah Said, a Palestinian intelligence officer, was one of those who leaped in to protect the Israeli soldier in Jenin. "If coordination with Israel benefits my people, then it's better than coordinating with Iran," says Mr. Said, a plainclothes officer speaking at the Muqata, the PA's security headquarters in Jenin, which sits surrounded by rubble left from the Israeli army's controversial invasion of the city in April 2002.

Moreover, says Said, he wanted to avoid a situation where another Israeli soldier would be kidnapped, causing Israeli retaliation or a rescue effort that could lead to violence. He was referring to the impact of Israel's operations in Gaza last summer after Palestinian militants affiliated with Hamas kidnapped Cpl. Gilad Shalit. Israelis around the country marked his absence with public vigils and called for release.

The events in Jenin weakened the stance of Israeli skeptics who complain that Fatah is too weak to enforce law and order, and that Israel has no capable partner for peace. Israel's foreign minister, Tzippi Livni, commended the development as evidence that the Palestinian Authority, at least as it operates in the West Bank, is beefing up its ability to assert itself and its policy of conducting peace talks with Israel.

"Such action demonstrates the strengthening of the Palestinian government in its efforts in the field to combat terrorism," Ms. Livni said in a statement. "Terrorist elements are trying to undermine the joint efforts of moderates in Israel and the Palestinian Authority to improve security in the area. …

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