For the first time since the second intifada broke out seven years ago, an Israeli prime minister arrived in the Palestinian Authority on Monday afternoon in a bid to establish a framework for a future agreement in preparation for an upcoming US-sponsored peace summit.
"This is more than a maintenance meeting. It won't be about day-to-day issues, mostly the focus will be on the two-state solution," said the sources in Jerusalem.
"These things need time to mature, so no one is going to be talking about permanent arrangements right now. But there are things that can be agreed on now. Meaning, get ahead as far as you can without things exploding," they said.
"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," said Prime Minister Ehud Olmert upon arrival.
He expressed hope that talks on creating a Palestinian state could begin soon, stating that the goal of meetings with the Palestinians was to "create two states for two people as soon as possible."
Prior to the meeting Israeli sources indicated that it would touch on Palestinian requests regarding border crossings, checkpoints and humanitarian aid. Palestinian sources said that Abbas intended to raise more sensitive issues, as well, including Jerusalem, Palestinian refugees and borders.
The meeting was held under tight security by both Israeli and Palestinian forces.
Olmert with Abbas and chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat (Photo: Amos Ben-Gershom, GPO)
Israel and the US have both been working to strengthen Abbas so he can realize his authority over the Palestinian territories and combat terror. The objective is to prompt Abbas to reach a settlement with Israel. Olmert's office said the prime minister would hear Abbas and take any requests into consideration.
"There isn't any gesture planned," said officials in Jerusalem, "we've only just handed over a vast sum of money, released prisoners, provided military aid and authorized outside military aid. We conceived a very handsome package and it bore results, stabilizing Abbas."
The officials said that Abbas has lived up to his end of the deal and had not fallen back in with Hamas, despite the mounting pressure to do so. "He understands that going back to Hamas' embrace is a death-blow to the political process," they said.
Meanwhile Hamas slammed Abbas for meeting with Israel and called the meeting an attempt to "beautify the ugly image of the Israeli occupation before the world.''
Ismail Haniyeh, prime minister of the Hamas-led government called the Jericho meeting a public relations gimic that would yield nothing.
'Abbas incapable of assuming authority over WB'
On the Palestinian side no one believes that the two leaders will achieve any significant progress, but the talks will allow the sides to establish the basic framework for a future agreement. PA officials said that promises regarding the easing of Israeli restrictions on day-to-day Palestinian life have so far failed to be implemented on the ground.
The Palestinians are expected to bring up a possible IDF withdrawal from Palestinian cities in the West Bank but a PA security source told Ynet that Abbas simply is not capable of assuming control over all the cities in the West Bank. Cooperation between security apparatuses is still lacking," he said, but progress is being made and soon the PA will demand Israel hand over control of the cities.
Convoy reaches Jericho (Photo: AP)
Official sources in Jerusalem noted that the meeting would be the first time an Israeli prime minister met with a Palestinian leader in PA territory.
"We're trying to show that we not patronizing, we're partners," they said.
The last meeting between Olmert and Abbas was also scheduled to take place in Jericho but was moved to Jerusalem at the last minute due to security concerns.
Livni: Arab world must support PA gov't
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said before the Jericho meeting, "Palestinian unity means stalemate and deterioration. The Israelis and Palestinians are forced to make a decision. Our attitude toward Hamas is not a punishment over the past, but derives from the fact that it prevents any change and hope for the future.
"The Arab world must support the Palestinian government and the moves Israel is taking, in a process of normalization in stages."
In a meeting with representatives of the Socialist International visiting Israel, Livni also referred to the role of Quartet envoy to the Middle East Tony Blair and the donor countries to the Palestinian Authority.
"They should bridge the gap between what is desired and what is available in terms of the Palestinian ability to fight terror and build governmental institutions. The implementation will be in accordance with the places where there is an effective rule of a government which accepts the Quartet conditions. Israel and the world can only work with such a government," she said.
Attila Somfalvi and Reuters contributed to this report