Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas have been meeting regularly in recent months with the aim of drafting the principles of a permanent agreement before the US-brokered conference of Mideast nations, which is scheduled to take place in Washington this coming November, Yedioth Ahronot reported on Thursday.
Sources close to Abbas said the two leaders have been holding the talks in a genuine effort to resolve the core issues, mainly Jerusalem, the Palestinian refugees and the permanent borders between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
On Tuesday Olmert met with a House of Representatives delegation, headed by majority leader Steny Hoyer (Dem.) of Maryland, to discuss the peace process with the Palestinians.
During the meeting the Israeli prime minister declared that he had been meeting with Abbas in order to “agree on principles regarding the core issues that will lead to the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, including the borders, Jerusalem, the refugees, exchanges of land, the passageway between Gaza and the West Bank and the nature of the relations between Israel and the future Palestinian state”.
Joint control over Temple Mount
Olmert told the Americans that he did not believe the agreement would be implemented immediately, but added that Abbas would be able to hold a referendum to approve it.
“Abbas is the first Palestinian leader since the talks with the Palestinian leadership began who is interested in changing the reality,” Olmert was quoted as saying by those who attended the meeting.
“He wants peace with Israel, but on his terms, which we do not accept.”
During the talks Olmert told the Palestinian president Israel would not cooperate with him if a unity government with Hamas is established.
Based on past statements by Omert and his deputy, Tzipi Livni, Israel would apparently agree to return more than 90 percent of the West Bank in the framework of a permanent agreement and allow the Palestinians to create a corridor between Gaza and the West Bank.
In return for holding on to large Jewish settlement blocs in the West Bank, Olmert would likely agree to give up some parts of the Negev to the Palestinians. In the past the prime minister hinted to the possibility of transferring a number of east Jerusalem neighborhoods to the control of a future Palestinian state.
It is estimated that Olmert would also be willing to discuss joint control over the Temple Mount complex.
Regarding the Palestinian refugees, Olmert is expected to adopt Livni’s solution, which states that they would be permitted to return to the future Palestinian state but not to Israel.