AL BIRAH, West Bank — A 300-yard stretch of the road from Jerusalem to Ramallah, ground zero in the recent combat between Israelis and Palestinians, is now a no man's land that looks a lot like the future Israel will propose when peace negotiations resume today. At one end, Israeli soldiers control a checkpoint fortified with concrete barricades. Razor wire surrounds a camp of army tents and armored personnel carriers.
At the other end, two Palestinian police officers with AK-47 rifles and a military jeep turn back Palestinian drivers headed for the Israeli checkpoint.
In between, the road--still strewn with rocks and spent bullet shells--is a "buffer zone" that Israeli snipers monitor from the rooftops and high ground on either side.
"Before the incidents, we had joint patrols here and everything was normal," Palestinian police officer Akif Rimaweh said. "But since the incidents, they have gone to their side and we have gone to ours."
For the right-wing government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the recent combat, in which Palestinian police officers exchanged fire with Israeli soldiers, was a watershed event that revealed the need for tougher security measures.
As a result, when Israeli and Palestinian negotiating teams meet at the Erez crossing between Israel and the Gaza Strip today, Israel is expected to place new demands on the table that Palestinians are just as likely to reject as a revision of already signed peace agreements.
"A new security reality has emerged in the territories," said an Israeli government official close to the negotiations.
He insisted that Israel has no intention of rewriting the peace accords, but he quickly added that the government wants to "superimpose precautionary measures" on the agreements.
To the Palestinians, that sounds a lot like semantics.
"We will not change one comma of the agreement," Palestinian Planning and Economic Cooperation Minister Nabil Shaath said Saturday on Israel Radio.
The latest Israeli-Palestinian unrest erupted a week and a half ago after Israel opened an archeological tunnel in Jerusalem's Old City near Al Aqsa mosque, one of the holiest sites of Islam. At least 75 people died and more than 1,000 were injured in the clashes.
Israel accuses Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat of unleashing demonstrations and the Palestinian police of opening fire on Israeli soldiers. Palestinian officials, in turn, say their officers were provoked by Israeli soldiers who had opened fire on Palestinian civilians.
At a summit with President Clinton last week, Netanyahu and Arafat agreed to renew suspended peace negotiations--the only agreement to come out of the Washington talks at which the two sides failed to resolve any of the outstanding issues that led to the explosion of violence.
The Palestinians want Israel to set a date for the pullout of Israeli troops from the West Bank city of Hebron--postponed after a series of suicide bombings in Israel earlier this year--and also to set a timetable for implementing the rest of the peace accords and to lift the military closure of Palestinian territories imposed after the recent combat.
Netanyahu said he would not make any concessions in response to violence, but he accepted new talks.
Arafat, who was greeted by tens of thousands of flag-waving Palestinians upon his return to the Palestinian-ruled Gaza Strip late Saturday, is said to have come away from the Washington summit convinced that Netanyahu is trying to destroy the peace process.
Arafat did not sound optimistic about the upcoming round of talks.
"We have to wait and see," he told reporters outside his Gaza office. "We are not asking for the moon, and we gave a new chance for peace."
Secretary of State Warren Christopher was scheduled to arrive in the Middle East this morning to press the two sides for tangible results from this round of negotiations, which has been downgraded to the sub-ministerial level.
Christopher is to meet separately with Netanyahu and Arafat before the talks begin. It was unclear if the three will participate in the opening of today's negotiations.
Israel is insisting that Arafat:
* Collect weapons held illegally by Palestinians. After the combat, Israeli security sources raised their estimates of the number of armed Palestinian police and civilians from about 50,000 to 80,000. The peace accords state that Arafat may have 30,000 members in his police and security forces, but not all of them with weapons.
* Discipline the Palestinian police who fired on Israeli soldiers. "It is very important for them to reassert their command structure so you don't have units that take things into their own hands," the Israeli official said.
* Agree to new security measures, such as buffer zones around Israeli army checkpoints, so that Palestinian police cannot shoot at Israeli soldiers.