Olmert, Abbas to meet today for first time since Annapolis

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas are scheduled to meet in Jerusalem on Thursday for the first time since the Annapolis peace conference in an effort to move forward negotiations that until now have been mired in little more than mutual recriminations. Senior government sources said that the Olmert-Abbas channel has been "more fruitful" in the past than meetings between the wider negotiating teams headed by Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and former PA prime minister Ahmed Qurei. Government officials recently expressed frustration that the more conciliatory positions Abbas took during recent meetings with Olmert were not passed on to the Palestinian negotiating team. Since the Annapolis meeting on November 27, the joint Israeli-Palestinian Steering Committee has met twice, but each time, the talks have dealt with mutual complaints, rather than addressing anything of substance. While the Palestinians complained bitterly in these talks about planned construction in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Har Homa and in Ma'aleh Adumim, Israel countered with allegations that the Palestinians were not fulfilling their part of the road map obligations, which call for them to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure. If Abbas aide Nabil Abu Rudaineh is correct, Thursday's talks won't be much different. He said Abbas will demand a clear commitment to a freeze on all settlement construction. Olmert's aides have also said that the prime minister will again raise the security issue. "It is clear that the Palestinians will bring to the table their concerns, and we will similarly bring to the table our concerns," a senior source in the Prime Minister's Office said. "The talks will have their ups and downs, because the issues on the table are complex and sensitive." The joint Israeli-Palestinian declaration read by US President George W. Bush at the Annapolis conference called for biweekly meetings between Olmert and Abbas to augment the negotiating process. The statement said the two leaders would "continue to meet... to follow up the negotiations in order to offer all necessary assistance for their advancement." AP contributed to this report.