PA insists J'lem under discussion

Olmert to meet Abbas for another round of talks; Erekat: Core issues are inseparable.

Olmert Abbas discuss 224 (photo credit: GPO)
Olmert Abbas discuss 224
(photo credit: GPO)
As Prime Minister Ehud Olmert planned to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday - snow permitting - for another round of talks, the question of discussing the status of Jerusalem in the final-status talks continues to cause controversy. PA officials angrily rejected Olmert's claim that they had agreed to delay talks on Jerusalem until the last phase of negotiations. In a speech in Jerusalem on Sunday to the Presidents Conference of Major American Jewish Organizations, Olmert said he and Abbas had agreed to make Jerusalem the last item on the agenda because it was "the most sensitive and difficult" issue. Olmert also hinted that the sides might not be able to complete a full peace agreement by the end of the year and might have to settle instead for a vaguer declaration of principles. Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat rejected those ideas on Monday. "The most important thing for us now is to find a solution for all these issues, and it will be an agreement," Erekat said. "Core issues are inseparable," he continued. "They are all one package, and there is no such agreement to exclude or delay any of them." An official in Jerusalem said that Olmert and Abbas tried to meet every two weeks and the idea was not to replace the formal negotiations being conducted by teams headed by Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and former PA prime minister Ahmed Qurei, but to set up a parallel track that provided direction and tried to deal with any problems that might arise. Erekat said Tuesday's meeting in Jerusalem was not expected to deal with the final-status issues. Instead, he expected the talks to focus on day-to-day areas of concern, such as Israeli construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem and Palestinian rocket attacks on southern Israel from the Gaza Strip. PA Information Minister Riad Malki said Abbas would also try to stave off an Israeli invasion of Gaza. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said Israel would continue to conduct peace negotiations as long as it served the national interest. Addressing a US congressional delegation visiting the Knesset on Monday, Livni said Israel would only sign a peace agreement that guaranteed Israeli interests. "Israel alone will determine how much to compromise," she said, "and expects the international community to respect any decision Israel reaches on the issues that are important for the country." The Prime Minister's Office declined to comment on an Army Radio report Monday that significant progress had been made toward clinching a prisoner swap with Hamas involving the release of kidnapped IDF Cpl. Gilad Schalit. According to the radio report Israel and Hamas have agreed on the identities of 230 Palestinian security prisoners to be set free by Israel, while negotiations continue over another 120. But Hamas officials denied a deal was close, echoing comments by Olmert on Sunday saying he did not share the optimism of recent media reports on the issue. AP contributed to this report.