Abbas and Olmert meet in Jericho

The Palestinian president and the Israeli prime minister have met in the West Bank in a bid to bridge gaping differences ahead of a US-called peace conference later this year.

Abbas and Olmert meet in Jericho
The Palestinian president and the Israeli prime minister have met in the West Bank in a bid to bridge gaping differences ahead of a US-called peace conference later this year.

Mahmoud Abbas and Ehud Olmert met in Jericho on Monday, the first time in years that such a high-level meeting was taking place in Palestinian territory.

Olmert voiced hope their talks would soon lead to negotiations on the creation of a Palestinian state.

But Saeb Erakat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, said ahead of the encounter that the Palestinians do not really have a lot of expectations for this meeting.

After months of resistance, Olmert agreed to expand the scope of discussions with Abbas to include "fundamental issues" that are key to Palestinian statehood and ending the conflict, US and Palestinian officials said.

But Israeli officials baulked at describing the session as an attempt to address so-called final-status issues such as borders and the future of Jerusalem and Palestinian refugees, saying the two leaders would seek instead an agreement on "principles".

"I came here in order to discuss with you the fundamental issues outstanding between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, hoping that this will lead us soon into negotiations about the creation of a Palestinian state," Olmert said, with Abbas standing at his side, at the start of their talks.

The meeting was held ahead of a US-sponsored regional conference slated for later in the year.

But it is unclear whether Olmert, whose popularity plummeted after last year's inconclusive war in Lebanon, can make major concessions, particularly to uproot Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank.

It is also uncertain how Abbas can deliver on any deal with Hamas movement, which is in control of Gaza and whose charter calls for Israel's destruction.

Ismail Haniyah, the ousted Hamas prime minister, called the Jericho meeting a public relations gimmick that would yield nothing for the Palestinians.

"It is clear that the meetings between Palestinian and Israeli officials are a replay of what happened in the past- its reproducing a long path that led the Palestinian people to nowhere," Haniyah said.

'Common principles'

Israeli officials said the goal was to reach agreement on a set of common principles on borders, refugees and other key issues without filling in the most divisive details, such as which Jewish settlements would have to be uprooted.

If Olmert and Abbas agree on "principles", they will be presented to the conference expected to be held in November, Israeli and Western officials said.

Olmert and Abbas would then set up working groups to begin negotiating the details, according to Western officials.

The last round of final-status talks broke down six years ago.

Israeli officials said the proposed agreement on principles would broadly call for Israel to withdraw from about 90 per cent of Palestinian territory.

Al Jazeera and agencies
Last Mod: 06 Ağustos 2007, 19:01
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