Abbas, Olmert to meet in West Bank

The Baltimore Sun

JERUSALEM -- Palestinian officials said yesterday that Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, would meet tomorrow with the prime minister of Israel, Ehud Olmert, in the West Bank city of Jericho.

An Israeli government spokesman could not immediately confirm the date or location of the proposed meeting but said that one would take place "very soon."

A gap was already becoming apparent, though, between Palestinian expectations and Israel's stated intentions regarding what the meeting would cover. An Abbas aide, Nabil Amr, said the leaders must be ready to hold "political" talks that included so-called final status issues for the creation of a Palestinian state, including borders, according to Reuters.

But an Israeli government spokesman, David Baker, said Israel was prepared to "mention larger issues in the realm of the future" but would not negotiate on these issues at such meetings.

The two leaders had originally planned to meet in Jericho in early June, but the Palestinian side called off that meeting, in part because Israel refused to release tax revenues that it had collected on behalf of the Palestinian Authority. Israel had withheld most of the money since the Islamic militant group Hamas came to power in early 2006.

Later in June, Hamas violently seized control of the Gaza Strip, leading Abbas, of the rival Fatah faction, to fire the Hamas-led unity government and set up an alternative, Western-backed caretaker government in the West Bank. Since then, with American encouragement, Israel has undertaken a series of gestures intended to buttress Abbas.

So far, the gestures have included resumption of the transfer of tax revenues owed to the Authority and early release of 250 Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails.

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