A three-way meeting between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, and US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice agreed upon Monday is meant to give momentum to Israeli-Palestinian discussions, and also to keep other initiatives - such as a Madrid-style peace conference - at bay for the time being. Olmert announced the summit following a three-hour meeting he held at his Jerusalem residence with Rice. All but about 30 minutes of that meeting was held behind closed doors, without staff in attendance. Sources in the Prime Minister's Office said the purpose of the trilateral talks would be to "add another dynamic" into the current discussions that are taking place, and will continue to take place on a nearly daily basis, between Olmert's and Abbas's offices.
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Rice flew Monday from Israel to Egypt, and will also travel to Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, key countries in America's attempt to put together a moderate coalition to act as a bulwark against Shi'ite radicalism and Iran.
These countries want to see a more intensive US involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian issue, saying that the tensions here make it more difficult to deal with other regional issues such as Iraq and Iran. The proposed trilateral summit needs to be seen within that context.
AP quoted Arab officials as saying they would propose to Rice a broad bargain dubbed "Iraq for Land." According to the report, the deal reflected widespread Arab feeling that a lasting Middle East peace was impossible unless Israel made territorial concessions to Syria, the Palestinians and Lebanon.
Israeli officials, however, said they did not sense during Rice's visit that the Bush Administration was going to press Jerusalem to pay for a grand Middle East peace plan with Israeli currency.
No date for the proposed trilateral meeting has been set, although it will likely take place during Rice's next visit to the region, expected in about three or four months.
According to Israeli officials, Rice and Olmert discussed the implementation of promises Olmert made to Abbas at their meeting in Jerusalem last month. According to these officials, Israel has removed some 40 roadblocks in the West Bank, and made it easier to move through checkpoints.
The only thing that was promised but not implemented, according to the officials, was the transfer of $100 million in frozen tax revenue to the PA. The reason that this had not been done, the officials said, was because the Palestinians had not set up a transparent mechanism through which Israel and the international community could monitor where the money was going.
Olmert, who met the Kadima Party faction in the Knesset after his discussions with Rice, said the trilateral meeting would "deal with political horizons in the Middle East." However, Olmert said, there was agreement that the road map would continue to be the basis for the diplomatic process, and that the sequencing of the road map would be the same.
This clarification came amid some indication that Rice was favorably inclined toward accepting the idea of Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, which is that Israel and the Palestinians should begin negotiating the contours of a future Palestinian state now, even though the first phase of the road map has not been implemented. The logic behind this is to provide a "political horizon" that could conceivably strengthen Abbas.
Olmert also made it clear at the Kadima meeting that the US and Israel agree that if a unity government is formed in the PA, it would only gain international recognition and legitimacy were it to accept the Quartet's three criteria: recognizing Israel, forswearing terrorism and accepting previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements.
"If there would be a Palestinian government that accepts these principles, it would be a dramatic achievement, and we could certainly have negotiations with that government," Olmert said, adding that if the government did not accept these conditions, it would certainly not be granted legitimacy by Israel or the US.
Gil Hoffman contributed to this report. â€¢