Olmert, Abbas, Rice to hold ME talks

Livni leaves for Washington on Sunday to speak at annual AIPAC conference.

olmert rice jlem 298.88 (photo credit: GPO)
olmert rice jlem 298.88
(photo credit: GPO)
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is expected back in Israel on the weekend of March 24, days after another planned meeting between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, and just before a key Arab League summit in Riyadh. The US has been pushing the Saudis to relaunch their 2002 diplomatic initiative, and diplomatic officials said this initiative - and Israel's reaction to it - would likely figure prominently in the Olmert-Rice talks. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni has made clear that Israel could not accept the initiative if it included a call for the return of Palestinian refugees to Israel, and Jerusalem has been receiving mixed messages regarding whether this clause would be dropped. The original Saudi plan in 2002 called for a full Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 lines, including in Jerusalem and on the Golan, and the establishment of a Palestinian state in return for normal ties with the Arab world. Another version of the plan adopted by the Arab League in Beirut later that year called for the return of Palestinian refugees to Israel in accordance with UN General Assembly Resolution 194. Livni is scheduled to go to Washington on Sunday where in addition to addressing the American Israel Public Affairs Committee annual policy conference she is also scheduled to meet with Rice. Senior officials in the Prime Minister's Office, meanwhile, confirmed that Olmert and Abbas were scheduled to meet sometime next week. Olmert, Rice and Abbas held a trilateral meeting in Jerusalem on February 19. The timing of the next Abbas-Olmert meeting was somewhat of a surprise, since Israeli diplomatic officials said after the trilateral meeting that another meeting - either a trilateral parley or a bilateral Olmert-Abbas meeting - was unlikely before a Palestinian national unity government was established. Officials in the Prime Minister's Office said that Israel never said it would cease contact with Abbas during the interim period before a Palestinian unity government was set up, and that the meeting was part of Israel's attempts to work with and strengthen "moderates" inside the PA. No final date or venue has yet been set for the Olmert-Abbas talks next week. Although preparatory meetings between representatives from the IDF, the National Security Council, the Foreign Ministry and Olmert's top advisers Yoram Turbowicz and Shalom Turgeman to discuss the talks' agenda have not yet been held, they are expected to concentrate on humanitarian issues in the PA.