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Olmert ready to talk to Abbas about statehood issues

world Updated: Apr 14, 2007 15:25 IST
Adam Entous
Adam Entous
Reuters
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Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is ready to begin discussing with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Sunday the legal, economic and governmental structures of a future Palestinian state, Olmert's office said.

But two officials in Olmert's office said the three main final status issues -- defining the borders of a Palestinian state, the status of Jerusalem and the fate of Palestinian refugees -- would not be on the agenda when the prime minister meets Abbas in Jerusalem.

The comments were the first by Olmert's office spelling out what so-called "political horizon" talks with Abbas would entail.

Senior Abbas aide Saeb Erekat said "political horizon" issues would be "on the top of the agenda" at the meeting but declined to offer details.

Sunday's talks will be the first between Olmert and Abbas since they agreed, during a visit to the region by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice last month, to meet once every two weeks.

Olmert has said Abbas's unity government with Hamas Islamists, and the continued captivity of Israeli Corporal Gilad Shalit, meant that no real progress towards Palestinian statehood could be made in their face-to-face meetings.

Olmert spokeswoman Miri Eisin said Olmert and Abbas will "start talking about what a Palestinian state would look like".

Eisin said this would include "the type of legal system, economic system (and) government system that it would have."

She said Olmert would not discuss with Abbas "the three hardest, central issues" -- borders, Jerusalem and refugees.

Washington has been pushing Israel to help create a "political horizon" to give Palestinians hope of achieving statehood.

Arab peace plan

Eisin said Sunday's talks would take place at the prime minister's residence in Jerusalem, rather than in the West Bank city of Jericho as proposed by the Palestinians.

She said holding the next meeting in Jericho was a "possibility."

In addition to security and humanitarian matters, and the "political horizon" issues, Olmert and Abbas are expected on Sunday to discuss the fate of Shalit, who was seized last June by militants from Hamas and two other armed groups who tunneled into Israel from Gaza.

Eisin sought to play down expectations. "The Shalit issue is not one that Abu Mazen (Abbas) can resolve," she said.

A deal on Shalit, after months of deadlock, could be key to any progress in talks between Olmert and Abbas.

Abbas is pushing for Olmert to hold talks based on an Arab land-for-peace initiative but Olmert has been reluctant to commit.

Last month Arab leaders revived their 5-year-old peace plan that offers Israel normal ties with all Arab states in return for a full withdrawal from the lands it captured in the 1967 Middle East war, creation of a Palestinian state and a "just solution" for Palestinian refugees.

Abbas and Olmert last met in Jerusalem on March 11.