Israeli-Palestinian negotiators again dodge substance in discussions

Olmert and Abbas expected to meet later this week for their first meeting since the Annapolis conference.

qurei 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
qurei 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
The Israeli-Palestinian Steering Committee met for a second time in two weeks on Monday, and - as was the case the last time around - dealt more with rhetoric than substance. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and her advisers met Palestinian Authority negotiator Ahmed Quriea and his team for some two hours at the King David Hotel. Rather than dealing with establishing a framework for the bilateral discussions, however, the focus of each side at the meeting was again on how the other side was not living up to its road map requirements. Government sources said the Palestinians again raised the issue of the settlements, demanding an end to all construction, including for natural growth, and Israel once again called on the Palestinians to carry out their security obligation under the road map. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas are expected to meet before the end of the week for their first meeting since the Annapolis conference. Livni and Quriea agreed that the Steering Committee would meet shortly after that, in what is widely believed as an attempt to show some progress in the bilateral track before US President George W. Bush's scheduled arrival here on January 9. While substantive issues were not discussed Monday, officials said the fact that the meeting lasted two hours this time, as opposed to a mere hour on December 12, showed that the atmosphere of the talks had improved somewhat. At the first meeting, the sides did little more than engage in mutual recriminations. Diplomatic sources said that while the Palestinians were keen on setting up working groups on the core issues that are to be discussed during the negotiating process, Israel was in no hurry to do so since this would necessitate spelling out positions on politically-charged questions like Jerusalem, the settlements and refugees. According to these sources, Bush - during his visit - is likely to prod Israel into setting up these work groups.