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(photo credit: GPO [file])
The teams of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas met in Jerusalem Tuesday, ahead of a private meeting between the two leaders.
Israel Radio reported that during the extended talks the Israelis gave their Palestinian counterparts general offers on core issues. An unnamed official was quoted as saying that the points on which the sides reached some degree of accord would then be discussed in more detail in higher-level negotiations.
Vice Premier Haim Ramon is slated to head the Israeli negotiating team, and Olmert and Abbas are also set continue meeting in the next few weeks.
Among the proposals made by the Israeli team was an offer to share control of the Temple Mount between the three major religions (Judaism, Islam and Christianity) and to cede control of the Arab neighborhoods of east Jerusalem to the PA. The policing of major West Bank towns Ramallah, Jenin and Nablus would also be given to the Palestinians.
During the discussions both sides agreed to work towards a joint security conference with representatives from Israel, Egypt, US and the PA to examine ways to stanch weapons smuggling from Egypt.
However, a proposal to dig a tunnel along the Philadelphi corridor was dismissed because of technical difficulties, Israel Radio reported.
Olmert and Abbas also discussed Abbas's request to release more Palestinian prisoners.
Israeli government spokesman David Baker said Olmert told Abbas he would soon present a plan Israeli security officials are drawing up to permit greater freedom of movement within the West Bank, which is restricted by IDF roadblocks, Baker said.
Both sides also agreed to continue the meetings between Israeli and Palestinian ministers to discuss nature preservation, economy and culture.
A joint Palestinian-Israeli economic council will be launched, apparently in October in Tel Aviv, in the presence of Olmert, Abbas and international Mideast envoy Tony Blair, Baker added.
The prime minister emphasized that renewed relations between Hamas and Fatah would lead to halting of discussions.
An unconfirmed Al Jazeera report claimed that the Israeli proposal made no mention of the Palestinian "right of return," but that it called to create a demilitarized Palestinian state within the borderlines of June 4th 1967.
In exchange for large settlements Israel would like to keep, it would turn over unsettled ground equal in size to the Palestinians, the Qatar-based channel claimed. Neither Palestinian nor Israeli sources verified any of the details reported by Al Jazeera.
Upon entering the prime minister's house Abbas paused to write a brief comment in the prime minister's guest book. "I am honored to meet with you in your home. I hope and wish that peace between us will move forward, and the two people will witness the peace that we wish to arrive at," he wrote.
But just before the meeting Abbas warned that a planned international peace conference would be a "waste of time" if it failed to address the core issues of Palestinian statehood - borders, refugees and Jerusalem.
Abbas pressed Israel to be more specific on how it planned to approach the peace talks, saying Olmert's proposed "declaration of principles" would not suffice. US President George W. Bush has called for a Mideast peace conference, expected to take place in November, to advance a final Israeli-Palestinian accord.
"If there is a clear framework including final status issues, we will welcome this and go to the conference," Abbas told Voice of Palestine radio.
Olmert began the meeting by congratulating Abbas on the work of Palestinian security forces in Jenin on Monday. The PA forces rescued an IDF officer who lost his way and drove into the hostile Palestinian town.
Olmert also thanked Abbas for freezing the bank accounts of approximately a hundred charities associated with Hamas.
Earlier Tuesday, an article in the Arab daily Al Quds reported that Hamas had given Abbas a proposal on how to end the enmity between the group and Fatah.
The report, quoted by Army Radio, said the offer was given to Hamas Foreign Minister Mahmoud Zahar in Gaza, and he transferred it to Abbas.
Abbas has yet to respond to the proposal.
Abbas's position since June has been to eschew any dialogue with Hamas until the Islamist group apologizes for taking over Gaza and returns the control of the Strip to the Palestinian Authority.
But Fathi Hamad, a Hamas senior in Gaza, said only moments after Abbas and Olmert began their meeting in Olmert's official residence in Rehavia that Abbas was "behaving as if he is working for Olmert, and by this, bringing his own end nearer."
The PA chairman, on his side, issued a "message of reassurance" to his people early Tuesday morning, saying that he would only be willing to discuss a Palestinian state if Olmert offers him a final agreement, and would reject any temporary solution.
Abbas also said that while he was willing to conduct secret negotiations, any agreement reached secretly would have to pass the test of a referendum among the Palestinians in the West Bank and be approved by the PLO's Legislative Council.