Israel, PA seek to create a 'positive atmosphere'

Gov't officials say leaders expected to announce framework for negotiations before Bush lands.

Olmert Abbas 224.88 (photo credit: GPO [archive])
Olmert Abbas 224.88
(photo credit: GPO [archive])
Both Israel and the Palestinian Authority are trying to create a "positive atmosphere" before US President George W. Bush's visit Wednesday and are expected to announce a framework for negotiations before he lands, government officials said Sunday. According to the officials, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni is scheduled to meet Palestinian negotiator Ahmed Qurei on Monday for the fourth time since the Annapolis conference to try to hammer out a framework for negotiations. This meeting is expected to be followed by another on Tuesday between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and PA President Mahmoud Abbas. The two leaders last met 11 days ago. Up until now, Israel and the Palestinians have not been able to agree on a framework for bilateral negotiations, with disagreement centering around whether to establish working groups to deal with the core issues - Jerusalem, refugees, settlements, borders, water and security. Government officials said that while Abbas was eager to set up working groups right away to show the Palestinian public that progress was already being made in getting Israel to talk about the core issues, Olmert was in no hurry, because he did not want to alienate his coalition partners. Indeed, Israel Beiteinu head Avigdor Lieberman threatened Sunday to leave the government if core-issue negotiations with the PA began. The idea behind both the Livni-Qurei and Olmert-Abbas meetings on Monday and Tuesday, the officials said, was to be able to show Bush that there had been some concrete achievement since the Annapolis meeting on November 27. Olmert alluded to this at the start of Sunday's cabinet meeting, saying that "Livni will brief [Bush] on events since the Annapolis conference and the continuation of negotiations between us and the Palestinians." According to government officials, both Israel and the Palestinian Authority are interested in finalizing a framework for negotiations so that Bush can say Annapolis bore fruit, including the establishment of a framework for further talks and a recent Paris conference at which various nations pledged $7.2 billion in aid to the PA. The PA, according to the sources, needs the positive momentum to ensure that the money pledged in Paris is actually paid. The officials said it was not coincidental that the Palestinian outcry over continued Israeli construction in Har Homa and Ma'aleh Adumim - an outcry that poisoned the atmosphere of the first two rounds of Livni-Qurei talks - has changed dramatically, and that both sides are interested now in substantive talks on the framework for negotiations prior to Bush's visit. At the same time, Olmert also indicated at Sunday's cabinet meeting that along with trying to show Bush progress, Israel would also stress to Bush the problematic situation on the ground. Olmert said that Barak would brief the president "on security issues both regarding the Gaza Strip and our continuing war on Gaza-based terrorism and on our continuing war on terrorism based in Judea and Samaria." Government officials said that neither Olmert nor Barak had given any indication during the cabinet meeting that creating a "positive atmosphere" prior to Bush's visit meant halting military actions in Gaza and the West Bank. Indeed, according to assessments in Jerusalem, the Palestinians were infuriated by the IDF's recent military action in Nablus and will raise it with Bush, arguing that these types of actions harmed the PA's ability to rebuild its security apparatus. The IDF carried out a three-day operation in Nablus at the end of last week, during which more than 20 terrorist suspects were arrested and a Kassam rocket manufacturing lab was uncovered.•