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Israeli officials are going into Monday's trilateral Israeli-Palestinian-US talks with almost no expectations, with one senior Israeli official saying Sunday that success at this meeting would be simply "agreeing to disagree."
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met separately on Sunday with both Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas to prepare for her talks with both men together on Monday at Jerusalem's David Citadel Hotel.
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Officials in Olmert's office described the two-hour, private Olmert-Rice discussions as "intense." Israeli officials reiterated that there was "full coordination" with the US regarding the demand that the new Palestinian government accept the Quartet's three benchmarks - recognizing Israel, renouncing terrorism, and accepting previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements - before being considered a partner.
The officials said that there was also full agreement with the US that these conditions were not negotiable.
An indication of how low the expectations are for the talks can be seen by the fact that no joint press conference or even joint appearance is planned following the meeting. Instead, Rice is expected to issue a brief statement and field a few questions afterward.
"Nobody wants a press conference where fingers will be pointed at each other," one official said. "And nobody wants to have to deal with follow-up questions."
In the eventuality that the meeting goes better than expected, and there is something to announce at the end, then the leaders can always, at the last minute, decide to meet reporters, the official said.
The three-way Rice, Olmert, Abbas meeting is expected to start at 10 a.m. The three leaders are then expected - depending on how the talks go - to be joined between 45 to 90 minutes later by their advisers.
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni briefed the weekly cabinet meeting Sunday on her preparatory talks Saturday night with Rice, and said it was clear to both the US and Israel that the road for the new Palestinian government's legitimacy passes through acceptance of the three conditions.
Livni said "the ball was now in Abbas's court," and that he had to take action to separate himself from Hamas and get the new government to accept the three Quartet principles. Livni said there was no disagreement with either the US or with Europe that what was agreed between Hamas and Fatah at Mecca did not meet the three criteria.
Government officials said Israel decided to go ahead and take part in Monday's meeting because refusing to do so would have meant Israel would be seen in the eyes of the world as the party not willing to explore options to move the diplomatic process forward.
Furthermore, the officials said the high-profile meeting was a good place for Israel to place before the world its demand that kidnapped soldier Gilad Schalit be freed and that the PA government moderate its positions.
Livni and Olmert met following the cabinet meeting to coordinate positions in advance of Monday's meeting.
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