Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Abbas, Olmert to Meet, Divided on Palestinian Unity | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
Select Page

JERUSALEM (Reuters) -Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas hold talks on Sunday that are only likely to highlight their divisions over a Palestinian unity government whose formation appears imminent.

“We don’t expect any results,” a senior Abbas aide said of the 5 p.m. (1500 GMT) meeting at Olmert’s Jerusalem residence.

Olmert has vowed to boycott the unity government that Abbas is forming with Hamas Islamists unless it recognizes Israel, renounces violence and accepts interim peace deals as demanded by the Quartet of Middle East mediators.

But the Israeli leader has promised publicly to keep a channel of communication open with Abbas, a policy promoted by the United States, which plans to send Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice back to the region in the next few weeks.

Olmert and Abbas last met on February 19 in trilateral talks with Rice that ended with no sign of progress toward resuming peace negotiations on Palestinian statehood broken off six years ago.

The Saudi-brokered Palestinian coalition agreement, which ended weeks of warfare between Hamas and Abbas’s Fatah faction, contains a vague promise to “respect” previous Israeli-Palestinian interim peace accords.

But it does not commit the incoming government to abide by those pacts, nor to recognize Israel and renounce violence, conditions key to resumption of aid to the Palestinian Authority cut off by the West after Hamas came to power a year ago.

Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, a Hamas leader, said the new administration could be announced as early as Monday.

In broadcast remarks on Sunday, Olmert looked ahead to an Arab League summit in Saudi Arabia at the end of the month and reiterated that Israel saw “positive elements” in a Saudi peace initiative adopted by the group in 2002.

Speaking to his cabinet, Olmert said he hoped those elements would be reaffirmed at the Riyadh discussions, a reference to the plan’s offer of normal diplomatic relations with Israel.

The proposal, however, came with conditions Israel has said it could not accept: withdrawal from all territories captured in the 1967 Middle East war and the return of Palestinian refugees to what is now the Jewish state.

Palestinian officials said changing the plan would not be on the Arab League summit’s agenda.

At Sunday’s talks, Abbas planned to ask Olmert to view the unity government “as a positive step,” the presidential aide said. Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said the group expected Abbas “not to yield to Israeli and U.S. pressure.”

Abbas was also expected to propose expanding a 4-month-old truce in Gaza to the West Bank. Israeli officials say they would not consider the issue until rocket fire from Gaza ceased. Some Palestinian militants also oppose expanding the truce.

Amos Gilad, chief strategist for Israel’s Defense Ministry, said Israel wanted to “underscore … there is no alternative” to the Quartet’s preconditions for restoring aid cut off when Hamas came to power after winning a January 2006 election.

The Quartet is comprised of the United States, the European Union, the United Nations and Russia.

Hamas leaders have offered a long-term truce with Israel in return for a viable Palestinian state. The group continues to say it will not formally recognize Israel and its 1988 founding charter calls for the destruction of the Jewish state.