(photo credit: AP [file])
The Palestinian Authority is not interested - because of domestic political concerns - in issuing a joint document at the upcoming meeting in Annapolis, according to current assessments in Jerusalem.
It is believed to be wary of making any compromises because they would be roundly criticized by Hamas and much of the Palestinian "street."
According to sources in Jerusalem, a leak of one of the draft documents that appeared in Haaretz on Thursday - apparently from Palestinian sources - indicated that the Palestinians don't want a joint document. Palestinians opposed to the document released its contents, according to these assessments, in order to place pressure on the PA not to accept it.
According to the Haaretz report, the document - dated November 17 - contains a number of declarative sections on which the two teams had reached agreement, and a number of proposed paragraphs from each side revealing the substantial gaps that remain.
For instance, while the Palestinians write that the final status agreement should be reached within eight months, and no later than when US President George W. Bush leaves office in January 2009, Israel writes that there is no agreement on a timeline.
The Palestinians reportedly opposed a number of statements in the preamble of the Israeli draft, including that Israel is the homeland for the Jewish people and Palestine is the homeland for the Palestinians.
The Palestinians also proposed the establishment of negotiating committees im-mediately and convening an international conference every three months to review the negotiators progress. Olmert, at Monday's cabinet meeting, firmly opposed the idea, saying "there will not be an event like Annapolis every three months," although he would agree to a meeting similar to ones held periodically by the Quartet.
One Palestinian source was quoted as saying that the Palestinian proposal in the draft was "weak" and neither called for a freeze in settlement construction nor the dismantling of road blocks or the separation barrier.
But a senior Israeli source said the two sides were still working on the joint statement, and there was still "lots of time before Tuesday."
If the document, as is widely anticipated, is not finished by then, then Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and PA President Mahmoud Abbas, under the watchful gaze of US President George W. Bush, are expected to "jointly announce the launching of core issue negotiations" instead of unveiling a joint document.
Olmert, meanwhile, continued to hold consultations on Thursday in the run-up to his departure for Washington on Saturday night. He was both preparing for the address he will deliver on Tuesday alongside Abbas and Bush, as well as for the two one-on-one meetings he is expected to hold with Bush - one the day before the main event at Annapolis, and the other the day after.
Israeli officials said it was likely the more "substantive part" of the week would occur at the bilateral talks that Bush will hold with Olmert and other leaders at the conference, rather than at the plenary session to be attended by representatives from more than 40 countries.
Olmert's meeting with Bush on Monday is expected to deal with the Palestinian issue and how to move the diplomatic process forward, while his meeting with the President on Wednesday is expected to focus primarily on the Iranian nuclear issue.
Olmert is scheduled to return to Israel next Thursday.
With the US government now on its Thanksgiving holiday, much of Olmert's schedule next week - beyond his meetings with Bush - still have yet to be worked out.
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