Olmert Abbas 224.88.
(photo credit: AP [file])
Israeli officials are hopeful that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will meet on Monday with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, but stress that the date has still not been finalized. The officials denied reports that Jericho has been set as the venue.
Israel had hoped to complete the release of 250 Fatah prisoners before the talks, but this will not happen if the two leaders meet on Monday.
The ministerial committee that will vet the list of names is only due to convene on Sunday - if the list has been completed by then. Once the names of 250 Fatah prisoners who do not have blood on their hands have been approved, there will be a 48=hour waiting period to allow for appeals to the High Court. Only after this, mid-week at the earliest, will the detainees be released.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is also due in the region mid-week after attending a ministerial meeting of the Quartet in Lisbon on Monday. Rice will brief Israeli and Palestinian leaders on the outcome of the Quartet meeting.
Assistant US Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Welch met with Palestinian leaders on Tuesday and will also hold preparatory talks with Israeli leaders ahead of the Rice visit.
A local US official said there was no expectation that Washington would exert pressure on Israel at this juncture to make additional concessions following the goodwill gestures already taken to boost Abbas: the release of the frozen tax funds and the decision to free 250 Fatah prisoners.
An Israeli official said there were already positive signs of change on the Palestinian side but stressed that this was a long-term process that takes time.
Among the changes welcomed by Jerusalem are the presidential decree outlawing people who are not members of the PA security forces from carrying weapons, and the attempts to build up the PA security forces.
On a separate issue, Jerusalem has received no information that the UN is considering redrawing the international Blue Line border between Israel and Lebanon to put the Shaba Farms area under Lebanese sovereignty.
In response to a report in the Haaretz newspaper, an official in the Prime Minister's Office said Israel had no territorial dispute with Lebanon, and Israel accepted in May 2000 the Blue Line demarcation decided by the UN. UN officials also denied the Haaretz report.