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Israeli-Palestinian Summit Getting Mixed Reviews

Ariel Sharon, center right, and aides meet with Mahmoud Abbas, center left, and members of his government in Jerusalem
Tuesday's long awaited summit between Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is getting mixed reviews from the participants themselves with Israelis citing progress and Palestinians calling it a failure.

Listening to comments from the two sides one might be tempted to wonder if they are talking about the same meeting.

After Tuesday's talks, Prime Minister Sharon said progress was made.

Speaking to a business convention Tuesday night, Mr. Sharon said the summit resulted in full agreement on the upcoming Israeli withdrawal from Gaza. He said a coordinated withdrawal was the best way to ensure quiet. The prime minister said he looked forward with optimism - that terror would be overcome and that Israelis would live in security and real peace.

Agreement on a coordinated withdrawal topped the agenda for the Israelis and the two sides did apparently agree on the need to work together on the pullout to avoid violence and chaos.

Israeli officials also said they offered to withdraw their security forces from the West Bank towns of Bethlehem and Qalquilya if the Palestinians are able to control the militants.

Despite such offers, Palestinian negotiators viewed the summit outcome with less enthusiasm. President Abbas made no public comment after the talks, but his Prime Minister, Ahmed Qureia, called the meeting difficult and said it did not meet expectations.

Chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat said major Palestinian issues were not addressed.

Mr. Erekat said the Palestinians had been told their demand for further prisoner releases, their concerns about the continued expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and the continued building of Israel's controversial barrier in and around the West Bank would be addressed in the summit. Yet, he said, these topics were not addressed.

These issues are deemed vitally important for President Abbas as a way of showing to his people and to the militants that he can get concessions from the Israelis and that he can bring about improvements in their daily lives.

The snag in the talks seems to have been over security - made even more apparent by the upsurge in violence in recent days and by signals from Israel that it will renew its round up of suspected militants and its controversial policy of targeted assassination of militant leaders.

Violence continued on Wednesday when Palestinian gunmen fired shots into the air and at a building in the Balata refugee camp near the West Bank city of Nablus, where Prime Minister Queria was speaking. He was not hurt in the incident, but was heard commenting that this kind of violence and chaos must stop.

Israeli Prime Minister Sharon said he made it clear to President Abbas during their talks that security remains the major concern for Israel.

He said Israel sees many good intentions on the part of the Palestinian Authority, but no real deterrent, no real action to stop terrorist activity.

The Palestinians welcome Israel's plans to withdraw from Gaza, but they want to make sure the process does not stop there. They want to see implementation of the internationally-backed "road map" peace plan and to work toward a final peace deal.

Mr. Sharon says he is willing to work with the Palestinians on the "road map", but he says that will not happen until "all terrorist activity has been stopped."