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Talks Between Israel, Palestinian Leaders Face Obstacles - 2003-11-25

Preparations for a summit between Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his Palestinian counterpart, Ahmed Qureia, are being stymied by demands and reticence from both sides.

Prime Minister Qureia says he is ready to meet with Mr. Sharon, but only if Israel is ready to take tough action, including a halt to construction of the controversial security barrier being built around and through the West Bank. Mr. Qureia says he wants any meeting to have positive results.

He also says he wants Israel to take concrete actions in other areas, such as a halt to settlement activity and an end to travel restrictions on Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Prime Minister Sharon has already said he will not accept preconditions for any talks, and reportedly told members of his Likud Party on Monday that if Mr. Qureia wants to meet, that's fine, if not, so be it.

Last week, major Palestinian militant factions agreed to hold talks in Egypt early next month to discuss a possible cease-fire. Hopes were raised in recent days that Mr. Sharon and Mr. Qureia might meet soon and possibly revive the stalled road map peace plan, endorsed by the United States and the international community.

Mr. Sharon has said that if efforts to organize peace talks fail, Israel might implement some unilateral peace moves. So far, he has not provided details, but media reports say steps could include removing some isolated Jewish settlements and drawing up a de-facto border.

Mr. Sharon's statement drew a sharp rebuke from Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, who said it shows the Israeli Prime Minister is not serious about implementing the road map peace plan.

Mr. Sharon also came under criticism from within his own right-wing coalition government. While some ministers supported the idea, others remain vehemently opposed to any unilateral actions, which they feel would be viewed as concessions and encourage Palestinian militants.

Israeli settlers and some right wing lawmakers are reported to be drawing up their own initiative, which does not include a Palestinian state as outlined in the road map, but would instead grant Palestinians administrative autonomy under Israeli rule.