During the meeting, Rice made it clear that she sought to reach agreements – both with Israel and the Palestinians – on the continuation of the preparation process for next month's Mideast peace conference in Annapolis.
The prime minister was under the impression that Rice did not arrive in the region in order to force Israel into processes it did not wish to enter, including in terms of the timetable related to the core issues – Jerusalem, the borders and the refugees – and the detailing of the declaration of principles to be presented during the conference.
However, the fact that the Prime Minister's Office did not rush to issue an official statement following the meeting, may indicate that the two officials failed to reach an agreement.
In spite of the reports on a positive atmosphere, Olmert's remarks at the start of Sunday's weekly cabinet meeting may create a dispute between Israel and the Bush administration, which seeks to create an organized outline which will lead to the establishment of a Palestinian state.
Over the past few months I have been holding talks with the Palestinian Authority president and we reached an understanding regarding the outline of the negotiations," the prime minister said.
According to Olmert, "We decided on a balanced, cautious and level-headed process, with the intention of reaching a joint statement during the international meeting. Such a statement, however, was never a condition for the meeting."
The prime minister added that the negotiations with the Palestinians should lead to the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, but "without the definition of an exact timetable for the beginning of the process and the end of the process.
"I believe that setting a timetable in advance for such a process creates obstacles rather than solving problems. In the coming weeks I plan to hold discussions in different frameworks in order to allow us to advance the talks with the Palestinian side, in order to reach a joint declarations which would address the foundations, which are the basis for the establishment of a Palestinian state in the future."
Firmly and politely
Government ministers who met with Rice on Sunday were under the impression that she was determined to reach positive results at the November conference, despite her polite tone.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Eli Yishai made it clear to the US secretary of state that they were not ready for compromises. Barak told Rice that in any future outline, Israel must remain, in terms of security, in the West Bank territories.
Yishai made it clear that Jerusalem was not on the agenda and that any agreement in the conference on the core issues could cause the Olmert government to collapse.
On Monday, Rice is expected to meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad in Ramallah. She is expected to return to Jerusalem in the afternoon for a meeting with Minister for Strategic Affairs Avigdor Lieberman.
On Tuesday the US secretary of state will travel to Cairo, and on Wednesday she is due to return to Israel for a meeting with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who was appointed head of the Israeli negotiations team.
Diplomatic sources in Jerusalem believe that Rice's visit will urge the negotiations teams on both sides to progress toward a joint declaration. They estimate, however, that Olmert will insist that the ways to solve the core issues must not be detailed, causing Rice to return to the Middle East in the near future in order to pressure both sides.