RAMALLAH, West Bank, (Reuters) – President Mahmoud Abbas promised Palestinians on Tuesday their lives would improve as a result of his talks this week with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. “Many issues which affect the Palestinians in their day-to-day lives will be resolved,” Abbas told Voice of Palestine radio in his first public comments on his meeting on Monday with Olmert in the West Bank city of Jericho.
Palestinian officials said they received assurances from Olmert that Israel would approve as early as next week the removal of some of the hundreds of checkpoints, roadblocks and barriers that restrict Palestinian travel in the West Bank.
Similar pledges in the past have not been fully implemented following opposition from Israeli security officials.
Abbas also sought the release of more Palestinian prisoners held by Israel but Olmert, who recently freed over 250 inmates, was non-commital. “We can evaluate the results after two more meetings,” Abbas told the radio.
Israel says travel restrictions on Palestinians stem from security concerns. Palestinians say Israel is carrying out collective punishment.
Over the past few weeks, Israel has renewed security cooperation with Abbas’s Fatah-dominated security forces in the West Bank following the violent takeover of the Gaza Strip by Hamas Islamists in June.
At the Jericho talks, which marked the first visit to a Palestinian city by an Israeli prime minister since 2000, Olmert expanded the scope of discussions with Abbas to include “fundamental issues” key to creating a Palestinian state. But aides to Olmert and Abbas emerged with differing explanations of what “fundamental” meant and whether the leaders were discussing any of the main final-status issues of borders and the future of Jerusalem and Palestinian refugees.
The new goal of the talks is to reach agreement on broad statehood “principles” by November, when the Bush administration is expected to convene a Middle East conference, officials said.
Israel’s Haaretz newspaper said Olmert was examining a peace framework involving a territorial swap proposed by new Israeli President Shimon Peres. Olmert’s office denied the report.
Under the reported proposal, Israel would hand over almost all the occupied West Bank in a final peace deal but keep settlement blocs amounting to about five percent of the territory. In return, it would transfer tracts of sovereign Israeli land to a Palestinian state.
Such an exchange would be similar to a land swap offer Israel made in failed talks with the Palestinians in 2001. “We do not know of any plan as described in the (Haaretz) article,” the prime minister’s office said in a statement. “We would like to clarify that such a plan has not been considered, nor is it being raised for discussion in any forum.”