Israel PM, Abbas To Hold New Round Of Mideast Peace Talks
JERUSALEM (AFP)--Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is to meet Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas Sunday for U.S.-backed peace talks in what could be their last meeting before Olmert steps down over a graft scandal.
"The meeting is scheduled to begin this afternoon in Jerusalem at the official residence of the prime minister and with the participation of the negotiating team leaders," Olmert's spokesman Mark Regev told AFP.
Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and former Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia have been leading their respective teams since the peace process was formally relaunched under U.S. auspices nine months ago.
"The objective remains to press ahead with the process begun at the Annapolis conference in the United States last November and to try to conclude a historic Israeli-Palestinian agreement," Regev said.
The talks have made little visible progress since they were relaunched and were dealt a blow in July when Olmert announced he would resign following a party vote Sept. 17 in order to battle corruption allegations.
Regev insisted Olmert's early departure from office "wouldn't interfere with the discussions."
Livni is a front-runner to succeed Olmert at the head of their centrist Kadima party, as is Transport Minister Shaul Mofaz, a hawkish former general.
Israeli public radio reported that Olmert is pressing for a "framework agreement" to be presented to U.S. President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice next month in Washington.
The talks were launched with the goal of reaching a comprehensive solution to the decades-old conflict by the time Bush leaves office in January 2009 but the two sides remain sharply divided on the core issues of the conflict.
These include the final borders of a Palestinian state, the future status of Jerusalem, the fate of some 4.6 million UN-registered Palestinian refugees, and the future of Jewish settlements in the Israeli-occupied territories.
Israel's Haaretz newspaper reported that Olmert has presented Abbas with a proposal that would lay out framework principles on core issues and create a five-year international mechanism for reaching an agreement on Jerusalem.
Palestinians have demanded mostly Arab east Jerusalem - seized and annexed by Israel in the 1967 Six Day war in a move not recognized internationally - as the capital of their future state.
Israel considers the entire city its "eternal, undivided" capital.
According to Haaretz, Olmert's proposal would have Israelis and Palestinians negotiate a solution for Jerusalem with input from the United States, the European Union, the United Nations, Russia, and perhaps Egypt and Jordan.
Palestinian officials couldn't immediately be reached for comment on the report, but Abbas has repeatedly said he won't accept a partial or interim agreement that leaves any core issues unresolved.
The report was meanwhile slammed by members of Olmert's government, led by the deputy prime minister and head of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, Eli Yishai.
"This government has no public legitimacy, and certainly no legal legitimacy to sign any shelf accord or reach any understanding on Jerusalem," Yishai said during Sunday's weekly cabinet meeting.
The deputy premier, a crucial coalition ally, has repeatedly threatened to pull out of Olmert's government if the subject of Jerusalem is raised in the talks.
Livni, meanwhile, didn't comment on the report but warned against a hasty agreement.
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