Olmert and Abbas (archive)
Photo: Avi Ohayon, GPO
Final diplomatic push before Annapolis
Olmert, Abbas to meet in Jerusalem in last-minute attempt to bridge differences as negotiations for joint statement remain deadlocked. Government stands to authorize release of 500 Palestinian prisoners as goodwill gesture to Abbas before conference

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will meet in Jerusalem on Monday for an eleventh-hour push in negotiations ahead of the steadily approaching US-led conference in Annapolis, Maryland.


The meeting will take place after an Israeli cabinet meeting during which Olmert is expected to lead a discussion on Israel's obligation to freeze the expansion of settlement blocs in the West Bank and dismantle illegal outposts.


The cabinet will not hold a vote on the implementation of the measures on Monday but only reiterate the government's commitment to them.


Olmert is scheduled to meet with British Foreign Secretary David Miliband earlier in the day.


The meeting follows a stalemate in negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. The talks, intended to iron out various differences on key issues ahead of the summit, failed to produce the much sought-after joint statement from both parties.


Israeli diplomats accused the Palestinians of "backpedaling to square one" but also said the impasse did not constitute a crisis and said relations remained cordial and positive.


The divisive topics center on the Palestinian refugees, the demand that Israel withdraw to its 1967 borders and the question of its sovereignty over Jerusalem.


The heads of the negotiating teams, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and former Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia (Abu Ala), plan to meet daily in an attempt to agree on a joint declaration. However, officials in Jerusalem said it was possible that two separate declarations would be presented at Annapolis.


During his meeting with Abbas, Olmert is expected to convey Israel's hope that numerous Arab states will participate in the conference, including Syria and Saudi Arabia.


Also on Monday, Cabinet is scheduled to discuss Olmert's proposal to release 400-500 additional Palestinian prisoners "without blood on their hands" as a gesture to Abbas ahead of the Annapolis parley.


Ministers from Shas and Yisrael Beitenu party, as well as a few from Olmert's Kadima party, are expected to oppose the proposal.


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