Olmert, Abbas to jumpstart negotiations on core issues
Israeli, Palestinian leaders meet at prime minister's residence in Jerusalem on eve of US President Bush's visit to region. Agreement reached on 'three-level' model for talks on core issues, which are to be discussed in direct dialogue between Foreign Minister Livni and Ahmed Qureia, head of Palestinian negotiations team
The two leaders met at the prime minister's official residence in Jerusalem for more than two hours. Sources at the Prime Minister's Office defined the atmosphere at the meeting as "extremely good".
Minister for Strategic Affairs Avigdor Lieberman recently threatened to leave the government should Israel and the Palestinians launch negotiations on the core issues.
A senior source at the Prime Minister's Office said that Olmert and Abbas have been discussing the core issues over the past few months, while Lieberman remained in the government.
"The message he conveyed was that he had a problem with committees discussing the core issues. No such committees have been established. We see no reason for Lieberman to leave the government. There is no fundamental change that should make him quit."
Olmert welcomes Abbas (Photo: Moshe Milner, GPO)
Olmert and Abbas met tête-à-tête after meeting earlier with the negotiations team, which include Foreign Minister Livni, Ahmed Qureia, the prime minister's chief of staff Yoram Turbowitz, the prime minister's foreign policy advisor Shalom Turgeman, Major-General Meir Kalifi, and Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat.
Olmert told Abbas that any construction works in the settlements will be carried out under his approval only. The Palestinians demanded that Israel refrain from wide-scale military operations.
In an interview with Ynet ahead of her planned visit to Israel accompanied by US President George W. Bush, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice reasserted the United States' objections to construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem settlements, referring specifically to Har Homa.
“Har Homa is a settlement that the US has opposed from the very beginning,” she said.
However, Rice also referred to the letter President Bush wrote to former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon "acknowledging that there have been important changes since the 1949 ceasefire and the events of 1967” which must be recognized as part of the Road Map agreement.
Addressing the claims that Olmert and Abbas are weak leaders, the US secretary of state said, "The truth of the matter is when there were 'strong' leaders they haven't been able to get this done." She added, however, "I don’t see either Prime Minister Olmert or Abbas as weak. I see them as having certain assets and having certain challenges in their political lives."