Ministers discuss future release deals

Quartet meets in Lisbon for the first time since Hamas's Gaza takeover.

jp.services1 (photo credit: )
(photo credit: )
The interministerial committee that Tuesday approved the list of 256 Palestinian prisoners scheduled to be released Friday also discussed names of prisoners not on the list at that meeting, in apparent preparation - down the road - for further prisoner releases, The Jerusalem Post has learned. According to government sources, newly appointed Vice Premier Haim Ramon, who has quickly asserted himself actively in all issues dealing with the Palestinians, was a key force in holding these discussions. Ramon, according to a Channel 1 report Thursday night, is also urging Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to develop a staged diplomatic program that he would present in a speech to the nation. According to the report, Ramon wants to see a negotiating team set up to deal with negotiations with the Palestinians, a team that would include himself, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Defense Minister Ehud Barak. The report also said that Olmert raised final-status issues with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas in talks the two held earlier this week. Olmert has consistently said that he would discuss "political horizon" issues with Abbas, but not enter into negotiations with him at this time over the final-status issues, namely Jerusalem, the refugees and final borders. Meanwhile, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said Thursday that the regional meeting announced by US President George W. Bush to advance the Israeli-Palestinian Authority diplomatic process would likely be held in September on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly meeting in New York. Gheit's comments came as the Quartet - comprised of the US, EU, Russia and the UN - met Thursday in Lisbon for their first meeting at the senior level since Hamas's takeover of Gaza in early June. This was also the Quartet's first meeting with its new Middle East envoy Tony Blair. The meeting was attended by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Rice, en route to Lisbon Thursday, did not confirm the date and place of the meeting. When asked whether Saudi Arabia would attend, she replied that "any state that is committed to a two-state solution and wants to see one come into being would be a participant in this conference." She said that the meeting was still in the planning stages, and that it would be discussed both in Lisbon and when she comes to the region at the end of the month. Aboul Gheit said that Rice would discuss the agenda of the meeting when she meets with Arab foreign ministers on July 31 in Sharm e-Sheikh. "Egypt's vision is that the meeting should handle a wide number of issues," including "launching the peace process in active negotiations between the Israeli and Palestinian parties," Aboul Gheit told reporters at a press conference in Cairo. Israeli officials, however, have a narrower vision of the meeting, seeing it as not a full-blown peace conference, but rather as a regional meeting where moderate Arab regimes that support the two-state solution will support Israel and the PA in attempts to move the process forward. Rice downplayed reports that differences have already emerged within the Quartet regarding Blair's mandate, and that Blair was interested in expanding his duties beyond focusing on building Palestinian governmental institutions. Blair's official mandate, as spelled out at a lower-level Quartet meeting last month, is "to help create viable and lasting government institutions representing all Palestinians, a robust economy and a climate of law and order for the Palestinian people." Blair is expected to arrive in Israel on Monday for two days of talks with Israeli and Palestinian Authority officials, and to set up an office and base for his operations. The United States and European Union held firm Thursday to their refusal to deal with Hamas. Rice and Portuguese Foreign Minister Luis Amado, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, both rejected any dealings with Hamas. "Hamas, I think, knows what is expected for international respectability," Rice told reporters at a news conference in Lisbon with Amado shortly before the Quartet meeting. AP contributed to this report