Israel bracing for US push to 'codify' status of PA talks

Jerusalem officials: US planning Rice-Livni-Qurei meet next week

The US is interested in having Israel and the Palestinians codify the progress in their talks up to now so there will be a lasting document to serve as the basis for further negotiations following the changeover of governments in Washington and - possibly - in Jerusalem, Israeli diplomatic officials told The Jerusalem Post this week. According to the officials, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will convene a trilateral meeting in Washington on July 30 or 31 with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and the Palestinian Authority's chief negotiator, Ahmed Qurei. According to the officials, the document the US is interested in emerging from Israeli-Palestinian talks would be in lieu of a finished "shelf-agreement" that US President George W. Bush had said at November's Annapolis Conference he hoped to see finished by the time he left office in January 2009. Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said last week that a trilateral meeting was in the works, though the US has not formally announced one. Rice, who has been here 21 times over the last three years, has not visited since mid-June. The officials said it was becoming increasingly evident to those involved in the talks that it appeared unlikely a comprehensive agreement would be reached by the target date set by Bush - partly because of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's political problems - and that the Americans were still interested in something tangible coming out of the talks, if only a document charting the issues that were agreed upon. The officials said this was important for the Bush administration so it would leave something for the next administration to begin working with, and also because it would obligate both the Israelis and the Palestinians down the road. Israeli officials said PA President Mahmoud Abbas was interested in such a document, but that there were divisions on the matter inside the Israeli government. According to these officials, while Olmert was interested in this document, Livni was less enthused. Olmert's interest, the officials said, stemmed from a desire to leave behind something positive if he were forced from office in the near future. On the other hand, the officials said, Livni did not want - just a few months before Kadima's primary - to sign a document calling for Israeli withdrawal from large swaths of the West Bank. The officials said this would be seized upon by Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz, and would cost her votes on Kadima's right flank. One diplomatic official said that the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem was trying to downplay the importance of the planned trilateral meeting, saying it would be just another routine meeting between Rice, Livni and Qurei. On the other hand, the Palestinians, they said, had an interest in emphasizing the importance of the meeting, because they wanted to see a document emerge out of the current Israeli-Palestinian talks.