According to Israeli media sources, U.S. President George Bush told Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas that if the Palestinian Authority (PA) disarms Palestinian resistance groups, he would pressure Israel to dismantle all unauthorized West Bank settler outposts immediately after the implementation of the disengagement plan.
Both the disarming of militants and the removal of outposts are part of the first phase of road map obligations that both sides have signed onto.
According to the same sources, Bush explained to Abbas that pressuring Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon at this stage would hamper his efforts to implement the disengagement.
Sources in Washington said that Abbas told Bush that he was working towards integrating resistance groups in the PA political system, and towards gradually disarming militant groups, but vowed that he was ready to take immediate actions against any violation to the existing unofficial truce.
Yet, the Palestinian leader added that such action was possible only if Israel dropped its objection to the supply of arms and additional essential equipment to the PA security forces.
Israel has objected to PA efforts to provide its security forces with needed military equipment, including the 50 personnel carriers that Russian President proposed to provide during his April visit to Israel and the Palestinian Authority areas.
Putin then angrily reacted to the Israeli objections saying: "the PA can’t fight violence with slingshots"
Meanwhile, the United States has decided to accept Abbas’s request to expand the powers of its Middle East security envoy, General William Ward.
U.S. sources confirmed over the weekend that, in addition to helping the Palestinians implement security reforms, Ward will now also serve as a security coordinator and mediator between the PA and Israel.
Until now, Israel has maintained that there is no need to expand Ward’s powers, and has expressed satisfaction with his work.
The decision to expand Ward’s power indicates that the U.S. has decided to play a more active role in security coordination between the sides.
The U.S. is apparently planning to step up its diplomatic involvement in the region, with a series of visits by senior U.S. officials.
U.S. Deputy National Security Adviser Elliot Abrams and Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Welch will visit Israel and the PA in the near future, with Rice expected in the region in June.