Peres, Livni seek to break deadlock with the Palestinians

Senior diplomatic officials: Meeting comes in effort to develop Israeli diplomatic initiative rather than have one forced on the Jewish state.

peres horrified 298 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
peres horrified 298
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
A day after the Spanish said they were presenting a Middle East peace initiative with the French and Italians, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Vice Premier Minister Shimon Peres met Friday to look for ways to "break the deadlock" with the Palestinians. According to senior diplomatic officials, the meeting came in an effort to develop an Israeli diplomatic initiative rather than have one forced on the Jewish state. Officials in Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's office said the prime minister made clear in the US last week that he wanted to get "the ball rolling" on the Palestinian track. However, the officials said, Olmert made it clear that any initiative would be dependent on the Palestinian government's acceptance of the three conditions laid down by the Quartet: recognizing Israel, accepting previous agreements, and forswearing terrorism. Olmert said repeatedly during his US visit that he was interested in immediately meeting with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas to discuss ways to move the diplomatic process forward. He also said that his office was in constant contact with Abbas's bureau. The officials said that Israel had no intention of discarding the road map, or of leapfrogging over the first stage, which calls for the Palestinians to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure, even though there are voices in the international community calling for the road map to be modified because of a lack of progress. The officials also said that no new initiative would be presented until Cpl. Gilad Shalit, abducted just outside the Gaza Strip on June 25, was freed. The Peres-Livni meeting came a day after Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said that Spain, France and Italy were working on a Middle East initiative that would be presented to EU leaders next month. Although Livni told Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Moratinos in a phone conversation Thursday evening that it was unacceptable for such a plan to be launched without coordination with Jerusalem, diplomatic sources in Jerusalem said Peres's position was that Israel had nothing to fear from various peace initiatives. Zapatero said the initiative had five elements: an immediate cease-fire; formation of a national unity government by the Palestinians that could gain international recognition; an exchange of prisoners - including the IDF soldiers whose kidnapping sparked the war in Lebanon and the fighting in Gaza this summer; talks between Olmert and Abbas; and an international mission in Gaza to monitor a cease-fire. The officials said that Peres's ideas for advancing the diplomatic process continued to focus on rebuilding mutual confidence with the Palestinians through economic cooperation. Options for reviving the diplomatic process are expected to be raised in Sunday's weekly cabinet meeting, where Olmert will brief the ministers on his visit to the US.