Hamas denied Monday that the release of kidnapped IDF soldier Cpl. Gilad Schalit was imminent, saying only that it was currently "not on the agenda," Israel Radio reported. "The Palestinian people have other, more pressing issues to deal with," Hamas spokesman Razi Hamed said. He added that there was no connection to be made between the establishment of a unity government and the release of Schalit.
PM: Israel 'serious' about Saudi plan
Hamas's comments follwed remarks by Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni on Monday in which she
said that Israel had a better reason to believe Abbas's promises of Schalit's release now that Abbas and Hamas were working together.
In an interview with Army Radio from Washington, D.C., Livni said that "Abbas said that before the establishment of the [Palestinian unity] government, he would free Schalit. This is an Israeli demand. I think this also needs to be an international demand."
During their meeting in Jerusalem on Sunday, Abbas promised Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that he will work for the release of Schalit before the establishment in the next few days of a PA unity government, senior government officials said.
The officials said Abbas's comments came after Olmert called for the unconditional release of Schalit. Despite Abbas's assurances, diplomatic officials expressed skepticism at his ability to deliver.
Israeli officials said the nearly two-and-a-half-hour meeting at Olmert's residence - the third meeting between the two leaders in three months - was held in a "positive and constructive atmosphere." One of the topics of discussion was the upcoming Arab League summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and the ramifications for the diplomatic process of the possibility that the summit would relaunch the Saudi initiative from February 2002 that called for a full Israeli withdrawal to the pre-1967 lines in return for "full normalization of relations."
Prior to the meeting, Olmert, in public comments before the weekly cabinet meeting, said in a clear signal to the Arab world: "We hope very much that at the meeting of heads of Arab states to take place in Riyadh, the positive elements expressed in the Saudi initiative will be revalidated and will perhaps improve the chances of negotiation between us and the Palestinian Authority."
Abbas and Olmert, Israeli officials said, agreed that the Saudi initiative could be a basis for further Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.
The first 90 minutes of the meeting was held in the presence of staff - with Olmert accompanied by his chief of staff, Yoram Turbowicz, foreign policy adviser Shalom Turgeman and military attach Gadi Shamni. Abbas was accompanied by negotiator Saeb Erekat and Fatah operative Muhammad Dahlan. The second hour was a private meeting between the two leaders.
The two men walked into Olmert's residence together, but - unlike the first meeting in December - did not exchange kisses on the cheek in greeting.
According to Israeli officials, Olmert stressed to Abbas that Israel would not deal with any PA government, or any part of a PA government, that did not recognize Israel, renounce terrorism and accept previous Israel-Palestinian agreements.
In addition to calling for the immediate release of Schalit, Olmert called again for Abbas to take more effective action in stopping the smuggling of arms from Egypt and in stopping the continued Kassam fire on the Western Negev.
The two, according to the Israeli officials, talked about improving living conditions for the Palestinians, with Olmert saying that in the near future the Karni crossing, which is the PA's economic backbone, would be open until 11 p.m., allowing some 1,000 cargo trucks to pass through daily.
Israeli officials said the two committed themselves to the road map and the two-state vision, but dealt primarily with day-to-day issues and did not discuss extensively a grand political horizon.
The officials also said the two men agreed that these types of meetings would continue on a regular basis. Olmert told the cabinet it was likely that future meetings would take part in one of the PA cities.
Olmert brought up the issue of the $100 million in frozen PA tax revenues that Israel released following their meeting in December, which Israel claims has been used - contrary to prior commitments - to pay PA salaries. Abbas denied this, and it was agreed that representatives of both sides would meet later in the week to discuss the matter.
Olmert rebuffed requests by Abbas to release further funds and to extend the unofficial cease-fire in Gaza to the West Bank.