After summit, Israel readies for task ahead

Work on putting together a steering committee to negotiate with the Palestinians beginning on December 12 will begin in earnest on Sunday, Foreign Ministry officials said Thursday, shortly after Prime Minister Ehud Olmert arrived home following the Annapolis conference. Olmert himself made clear in a press briefing with reporters before he left Annapolis that he saw no reason to move Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni from the position of head of the Israeli negotiating team, a position she has held for the last several months. Livni was head of the team that negotiated the joint understanding with Palestinian negotiator Ahmed Qurei that US President George W. Bush read out at the Annapolis conference on Tuesday "I am very pleased with Livni's involvement and what she has contributed," Olmert said. "It is very important, and I appreciate her participation. I see no reason why she should not continue." A senior official in the Foreign Ministry said the Prime Minister's Office and the Foreign Ministry still have to decide who is to be on the Israeli steering committee. The official said that the committee will determine how the negotiations will operate. A number of teams are expected to be established that will deal with various issues, although the number of teams or issues to be discussed still has to be determined. The Foreign Ministry official said that at this time the ministry is not prepared for the work in each of these sub-committees, and would need at least until January to prepare. A negotiating support team made up of Foreign Ministry officials has, however, already been established, to provide research assistance to the various negotiating teams.