The Israeli and Palestinian leadership will meet regularly to prepare for a Middle East peace summit in the United States scheduled for this fall, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud agreed during a meeting Monday.
The two leaders met in the West Bank city of Jericho, marking the first time an Israeli prime minister visited the Palestinian Authority since the outbreak of the intifada seven years ago.
After a private one-and-a-half hour meeting between the two men, Olmert and Abbas convened with their Israeli and Palestinian delegations for a wider scale conference.
"We don't want conferences for the sake of photo-ops, but to reach a comprehensive peace agreement," chief Palestinian negotiator Dr Saeb Erekat told a press conference after the meeting.
Former Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh (Hamas), however, was not thrilled by the meeting, and called it "a gimmick that will lead to nothing."
At the end of the private meeting, Olmert said he and Abbas discussed establishing strong foundations for a Palestinian state.
"We decided to increase contacts to advance understandings and reach a working model that will allow progress towards establishing a Palestinian state," Olmert said.
"The aim is to achieve US President George Bush's vision of two countries for two peoples, living in security and peace side by side," Olmert said. This process, based on the mutually agreed-upon Roadmap, must occur as soon as possible, he noted.
A few hours later, officials in Jerusalem confirmed that the intent was in fact to aim for an agreement as soon as possible, but that depended on whether stability could be maintained in the Palestinian Authority.
"Right now, neither side is ready for a land transfer," Israeli officials said. "The more we advance (towards an agreement), we will be able to transfer land to Palestinian control. But that depends on the Palestinians' ability to stand on two feet. Olmert has no intention of cheating or dragging time. He certainly wants to progress."
Meanwhile, efforts will be immediately boosted towards rebuilding the Palestinian security forces, with the aid of the United States. Israel will also renew security cooperation with the Palestinian Authority.
'Start on major issues'
According to Erekat, Abbas stressed the Palestinian aim to start discussions on the major issues. "Abbas demanded Israel stop settlement activity and activate joint Israeli-Palestinian staffs on all the issues at hand."
He also noted that the Palestinians demanded a timetable be set regarding the steps to be taken. Erekat called the meeting "intensive, positive and serious."
"We made clear that we want a permanent solution based on the international decisions. We focused on the issues that will bring about the establishment of a Palestinian state, and we don't need (US Secretary of State) Condoleezza Rice's interference but rather decisions by the leadership of both sides, to end the occupation and establish a Palestinian state.
The leaders examined current security cooperation, and the Palestinians reported seizing dozens of pounds of explosives transferred to Israel and arresting hundreds of terror suspects. Abbas said during the meeting that Israel's release of Palestinian security prisoners in July had great influence on Palestinian public opinion.
He asked the prime minister to consider releasing additional prisoners, and Olmert promised to weigh the issue. The Palestinians also requested the removal of roadblocks in the Palestinian territories, and Olmert said the defense establishment would examine the matter.
The two leaders agreed to encourage cooperation between ministers of both governments.
According to Ereket, Prime Minister Salam Fayyad also settled with the Israelis how Palestinian tax money collected in Israel should be transferred to the PA.
Ali Waked contributed to this report