Israel, awaiting US Secretary of State Colin Powell on a new peace mission, will balk at easing its military grip on Palestinians until they rein in armed militants, political sources said yesterday.
Palestinian leaders have accepted the "road map" peace plan, envisaging a Palestinian state by 2005 after confidence-building steps by both sides. Israel has demurred on security grounds and continued a military clampdown despite US calls for restraint.
Powell was due in Jerusalem late yesterday, his first trip to the region for 13 months and the most concerted Middle East peace push since the Camp David negotiations unravelled in 2000.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said in Washington that President George W. Bush hoped Powell would find willingness by Israeli and Palestinian leaders to "take the first steps down the road that the road map outlines."
The road map requires new reformist Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, to crack down on militant groups behind suicide bombings and ambush attacks on Israelis in a 31-month-old uprising for independence.
It requires Israel to pull back troops occupying or blockading Palestinian cities and towns, remove Jewish settler outposts and stop expanding established settlements on West Bank and Gaza territory Israel captured in a 1967 war.
Drafted by Washington, the EU, UN and Russia, the plan's formula for implementation is reciprocity.
But Israeli political sources said Prime Minister Ariel Sharon would tell Powell the plan puts insufficient onus on Palestinians to disarm and jail militants sworn to defy Abbas and in some cases to destroying Israel.
"Powell will try to put pressure on us to endorse the road map in principle. But Sharon will tell him that Abu Mazen hasn't done anything to fight terror, that we will not settle just for a `ceasefire' and demand that Palestinians fight the terrorist organizations," said a senior source close to Sharon.
"Abu Mazen may enjoy US support but he cannot be able to claim he stopped terrorism without having done anything ... That just allows terrorists to regroup for more attacks."
Israel says militants still try daily to carry out attacks and credits its army clampdown for pre-empting most of them.
The source said Sharon was agreeable now only to limited measures that would alleviate Palestinian privations without a security risk, such as granting more permits for work in Israel.