J'lem official: Peace talks making considerable progress

Cites developments on final borders; PM ready to make "tangible" changes in W. Bank.

olmert abbas nice 224 88 (photo credit: GPO [file])
olmert abbas nice 224 88
(photo credit: GPO [file])
Israel and the Palestinian Authority made "considerable progress" toward delineating the border of a future Palestinian state, sources in Jerusalem said following Monday's lunch meeting between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. The officials said that progress was also made on security issues, but that there was no movement on the issue of Palestinian refugees or the future status of Jerusalem. The reports of significant progress on the border issue, with Channel 1 even reporting details such as that the new borders will necessitate the evacuation of 60,000 Jews from West Bank settlements, was the first time since the Annapolis Conference that anything significant has leaked out regarding the ongoing Palestinian-Israeli negotiations. That these reports are emerging now, just days after news of a new investigation of Olmert, have some political observers in Jerusalem wondering whether they are tied to the investigation, and whether Olmert's office is trying to put a "positive spin" on the talks now to deflect the negative headlines of the last few days. Olmert met for some two hours with Abbas on Monday, following a meeting he held earlier in the day with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. According to some unconfirmed reports, Rice - who left Monday after a 36-hour visit - was pressing the two sides to make progress on the border issue so that something could be announced next week during the visit of US President George W. Bush. Olmert and Rice met privately, and no details of their meeting were made available. Olmert and Abbas also met privately, and then were joined in their talks by the head of their respective negotiating teams, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and chief PA negotiator Ahmed Qurei. Olmert's spokesman Mark Regev said the current negotiations taking place with the Palestinians were "quite possibly the most serious ever held with the Palestinians." During her visit Rice insisted that the target of coming up with a framework agreement for a Palestinian state by the end of the year was still realistic, and Regev agreed. "I believe there is a very good chance these talks will produce concrete results for the benefit of both people. We believe the timetable set out in Annapolis is achievable," said Regev. 'We also discussed the tangible issues on the ground. We understand fully that political dialogue must be supported by tangible steps on the ground or you can have cynicism on the ground," he added, in an apparent reference to Palestinian and US pressure on Israel to remove West Bank roadblocks and barriers and stop construction in the settlements. Olmert and Abbas greeted each other warmly at the start of the two-hour meeting, held at Olmert's official residence in Jerusalem. The men embraced, Abbas signed the guest book, and Olmert bantered with Abbas's aides about European soccer teams before the beginning of the meeting at Olmert's Jerusalem residence. AP contributed to this report