Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Sunday said he was ready to "treat seriously" a dormant Saudi initiative calling for a comprehensive peace agreement between Israel and the Arab world in exchange for a full Israeli withdrawal from lands captured in the 1967 Mideast War. The Arab League is expected to discuss the Saudi initiative, first proposed in 2002, at a summit later this month in Riyadh. Olmert told his Cabinet on Sunday that Israel is following developments in the Arab world "with the utmost attention" and noted "positive developments" among moderate Arab countries.
Abbas to ask PM to give unity a chance
"We have said more than once that the Saudi initiative is a matter which we would be ready to treat seriously and we have not altered our position," he said. "We hope very much that at the meeting of heads of Arab states to take place in Riyadh, the positive elements expressed in the Saudi initiative will be revalidated and will perhaps improve the chances of negotiation between us and the Palestinian Authority."
In a related development, Olmert will rebuff expected appeals by Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas at their planned meeting Sunday afternoon to extend the Gaza "cease-fire" to the West Bank or meet with Fatah members of a future Hamas-Fatah unity government, officials in Olmert's office said Saturday night.
Palestinian officials said that Abbas would urge Olmert to give the unity government a chance and extend the unofficial cease-fire with the Palestinians from the Gaza Strip to the West Bank.
But the officials in Olmert's office said that in light of Kassam rockets still being fired from Gaza on the western Negev, there was "not a chance" that Olmert would agree to extending this cease-fire arrangement to the West Bank.
"The cease-fire is not holding in Gaza," the officials said. "Let us see it implemented there before moving it to the West Bank."
Rather than talking about extending the cease-fire, Olmert was expected to urge Abbas to do more to stop the Kassam fire, or face an end to Israel's policy of restraint in the future.
Sunday's meeting is expected to take place at Olmert's residence in the afternoon. It will be the third time the two men have met in three months, with the first of those meetings - on December 24 - also having taken place at Olmert's residence. The second meeting, which was held on February 19 at Jerusalem's David Citadel Hotel, also included US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
Officials in Olmert's office warned against expecting any "dramatic breakthroughs" at Sunday's meeting, and said that its purpose was simply to "keep the lines of communication open." No photo opportunity or press conference has been scheduled for the meeting, underscoring both sides' low expectations.
The officials said there were also "no plans" for Olmert to offer Abbas any confidence-building gestures that he may request to give him more leverage in his unity talks with Hamas. According to this logic, these steps could demonstrate to Hamas and the Palestinian public that only Abbas could pry anything loose from Israel.
But rather than make any more gestures, such as releasing additional tax revenue that Israel has held up, Olmert - according to officials in his office - was likely to ask Abbas directly why part of the $100 million in tax revenues that Israel transferred to the PA following their meeting in December went to pay PA salaries, despite commitments given to Israel that the money would not be used for that purpose.
The officials in Olmert's office also dashed any hope that there would be any announcement at the meeting regarding the possible release of kidnapped soldier Gilad Schalit.
"Abbas is not the key to Schalit's release," the officials said, adding that Olmert would, however, press Abbas to keep a previous promise that Schalit would be released before the establishment of a Fatah-Hamas unity government.
While Abbas was expected to urge Israel to continue contacts with Salaam Fayad and Muhammad Dahlan after their possible appointment to the PA unity government, officials in Olmert's office said that Olmert would reply that if they become ministers of the government, Israel would not deal with them.
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni heard similar appeals to continue contacts with Fayad from her counterparts in Europe during a meeting with EU foreign ministers in Brussels last week, but said that Israel would have nothing to do with a government that Hamas was involved in if it did not fully accept the international community's three benchmarks: recognizing Israel, renouncing terrorism and accepting previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements.
Livni told the ministers that these conditions should not be subject to any negotiation, and "must be fully satisfied for any Palestinian government to receive legitimacy and international cooperation."
She also hinted that Israel's ability to continue to engage with moderate Palestinians depended on the international community upholding these principles.
"Israel's ability to engage and make progress with moderates on the Palestinian side is closely tied to the international community's continued refusal to legitimize any PA government that fails to fully comply with the Quartet principles," she said.
European leaders meeting in Brussels, meanwhile, issued a statement Friday reaffirming their demand that the PA live up to the three benchmarks. "The EU stands ready to work with a legitimate Palestinian government that adopts a platform reflecting the Quartet principles," the statement read.
The statement was issued even though some EU states - such as France, Italy, Spain and Finland - have been calling for the EU to demonstrate more flexibility in showing a willingness to work with a PA unity government.