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(photo credit: AP [file])
Israel made clear Monday it views the Fatah-Hamas dispute over the proposed referendum on the "prisoner's document" as an internal Palestinian matter that will not change Israel's insistence that the Palestinian Authority fulfill its obligations under the road map before final status talks can begin.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni relayed this message in separate meetings Monday with visiting EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana.
Solana arrived Sunday evening for two days of talks, after which he is expected to go to Iran.
Livni, according to her office, told Solana that Israel considers the prisoner's document "an internal Palestinian document and has intentionally refrained from relating to its specific contents."
The paper, entitled the National Conciliation Document, calls for the creation of a Palestinian state along the pre-1967 lines, with Jerusalem as its capital. The document also calls for the "right of return for the refugees and to liberate all prisoners and detainees."
A senior diplomatic source in Jerusalem summed up Israel's approach to the issue as letting PA President Mahmoud Abbas "do it his way."
While the source said Israel obviously couldn't accept the document, he said the paper would be constructive if it helped Abbas change the internal situation in the PA.
"This is not the document that will be the basis for negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians," the official said. "This document is meant to mend fences among the Palestinians and create a situation where the Palestinians may be able to return to the [negotiating] table."
Reiterating Israel's long-standing position, the official said that once "at the table," the road map - with its phases and stages and its demand that the Palestinians end violence and dismantle the terrorist infrastructure - will be the operative document.
"Right now, let Abbas do it his way," the official said. "When he arrives at the negotiating table, he will have to arrive with a willingness to fulfill the road map's commitments and with a government that accepts the international community's three criteria."
Diplomatic officials who took part in the meetings with Solana on Monday said that he remained firm on the need for the Hamas-led PA government to meet these criteria before gaining international legitimacy: recognizing Israel, renouncing terrorism and accepting previous agreements.
Livni stressed to Solana the importance of the EU standing firmly behind the conditions. While Livni said Israel would "strive to ease humanitarian conditions for the Palestinian people as much as possible, out of the recognition that they should not be punished for their vote," she opposed suggestions being made in Europe that the international community pay the salaries of PA workers through a special "funding mechanism" being developed in Brussels.
European officials trying to structure the funding mechanism are debating a number of issues, including whether the mechanism should pay the salaries of PA education and health workers.
Livni told Solana the salaries of PA educational employees should not be paid. "The world cannot permit itself a Hamas educational system that inculcates hatred and violence," she said.
Israel's position regarding the funding mechanism is that both its scope and its time frame should be limited. Israel has come out against paying any salaries for PA workers, arguing that that if the salaries remain unpaid, the Hamas-led government will be held responsible and, eventually, accountable.
The funding mechanism issue is certain to be high on the agenda of both Olmert and Livni when they separately visit Europe next week.
Olmert is leaving on a four-day trip to Britain and France next Sunday to explain his diplomatic plans to British Prime Minister Tony Blair and French President Jacques Chirac, while Livni is going to meet European foreign ministers in Brussels at the Israel-EU Association meeting, and then to Strasbourg to address the European parliament.
Olmert, who went to Egypt Sunday, is expected to visit Jordan on Thursday to brief King Abdullah.
Meanwhile, US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Welch is scheduled to begin four days of high-level talks in the region on Tuesday.
It will be the first visit by a senior US official since Olmert returned from Washington 12 days ago, and it is expected to include the first of a series of working-level meetings to be held over the next few months on the details of Olmert's realignment plan.
Welch is scheduled to meet with Olmert, Livni, Defense Minister Amir Peretz, Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) head Yuval Diskin and the new head of the National Security Council, Ilan Mizrachi.