Olmert and Abbas to meet in Jerusalem

PMO: "The government must continue to function, you can't expect everything now to just freeze."

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is scheduled to meet Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Jerusalem on Wednesday, and US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is expected to visit again in two weeks, clear signals that the relevant parties intend to continue pursuing an agreement despite Olmert's declaration that he will resign after the Kadima primaries in September. "The government must continue to function, you can't expect everything now to just freeze," a source in the Prime Minister's Office said of the planned meeting with Abbas. The source said periodic meetings between the two leaders were agreed upon at Annapolis last November and that this "process continues." Olmert and Abbas last met in mid-July at a summit in Paris, where Olmert pledged he would release an undetermined number of Palestinian prisoners as a goodwill gesture to Abbas. That issue, as well as the status of the negotiations, is expected to be discussed Wednesday. One diplomatic official in Jerusalem said that despite the current political turmoil in Israel, the various negotiating teams continue to meet on a regular basis. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni met last week in Washington with Rice and chief Palestinian negotiator Ahmed Qurei. The official said Rice remained intent on pushing the sides to come out with a document, preferably before the United Nations General Assembly meeting in September, that would codify what had been achieved in the negotiations up until now, and also spell out what the gaps were. The purpose of such a document, the official said, would be two-fold: It would be evidence of something tangible coming out of the intensive US efforts to push the process forward over the last few months, and it would be the starting point for future negotiations under a new Israeli government and US administration. Tomorrow's meeting at Olmert's official residence would be the first since Olmert announced his intention to resign last Wednesday. Even before that announcement, Abbas had said in Tunisia in July that he did not think an agreement could be reached by the target date of the end of 2008, and that the sides had not agreed on any of the core issues. Olmert, meanwhile, told the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee last Monday that while he did not think an agreement on Jerusalem was possible by the end of the year, significant progress had been made on other core issues. Olmert, according to sources in his office, thinks it is possible to come up with a "shelf agreement" by the end of year that would deal with all of the core issues except Jerusalem and stipulate the establishment of some other mechanism or framework to deal with Jerusalem in 2009. In the meantime, the State Department has made it clear that it intended to continue with the diplomatic process regardless of the political instability in Israel, with the aim of coming to an agreement by the end of the year that would lead to the establishment of a Palestinian state.