Negotiations on concrete issues between Israel and the Palestinian Authority will only take place sometime next month, adjacent to US President George W. Bush scheduled visit to the region in early January.
Until that time the Israeli team will focus on reviewing past talks with the Palestinians and preparing for the intensive negotiations. The groundwork is currently being orchestrated by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's chief of staff, Yoram Turbowitz.
Olmert met in private on Thursday afternoon with Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Affairs Minister Tzipi Livni for a preliminary talk prior to the first meeting with the Palestinian negotiators on December 12th.
Jerusalem officials said the current estimate sees Olmert meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas only after the lower-ranking negotiation teams meet next week. But prior to Bush's visit, they said, all talks will likely revolve around logistical issued pertaining to future negotiations.
"At this point, the sides will deal with laying down the ground-rules for the negotiations, the frequency of the talks and their location and so on. The actual negotiations over the core issues will only place in early January," a senior State official told Ynet.
Opposition from friends and foes
Near or far, the Palestinians may not be the only ones Olmert will have to negotiate with as opponents of his policies grow more vocal.
Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz addressed the current negotiations at a Kadima Hanukkah party and said he would not negotiate any of the core issues until the Palestinian Authority can control its cities in the West Bank and Gaza.
And speaking at a conference hosted by the One Jerusalem organization, Likud Chairman Benjamin Netanyahu slammed the government for "willingly ceding expansive areas of Jerusalem to our enemies. I am hard-pressed to recall any time in the past wherein Jews volunteered to hand over areas to foreigners."
Netanyahu added that "the people of Israel have already spilt an ocean of tears and blood, and it did not sacrifice its sons in biblical times or in modern times so that this government could surrender Jerusalem. We will not let that happen. The Temple Mount is ours and it must remain under our control."
Attila Somfalvi and Amnon Meranda contributed to this report