Wed, Aug 08, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Abbas says Olmert `serious about making progress'


Israel has promised solutions for many of the day-to-day concerns of Palestinians in Israeli-controlled territories, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said after talks with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

Abbas and Olmert met for three hours on Monday in the West Bank town of Jericho, and both said they talked about fundamental issues that are to pave the way toward Palestinian statehood. Olmert promised Abbas that negotiations on a final peace deal would start "soon."

Later Monday, Abbas said he believes Olmert is serious about making progress.

The two leaders also talked about easing the lives of Palestinians, including the removal of Israeli army roadblocks and the release of Palestinian prisoners. "After this meeting, I can say that many of the daily issues that concern the Palestinian people will find a solution," Abbas said without elaborating.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said Israel's Defense Ministry is to present a plan next week on easing travel restrictions.

Olmert was the first Israeli leader to visit a Palestinian town after seven years of bloody fighting, and Israeli and Palestinian security forces worked together to protect him, blocking all access to the five-star hotel in Jericho where the meeting took place.

Abbas, in turn, gained some stature by hosting Olmert, at least symbolically leveling the uneven relationship of occupier and occupied.

Yet despite the good will, the two sides have very different ideas about what should happen next.

The Palestinians said that after years of delay, it's now time to start talking about the terms of Palestinian statehood, including final borders, removal of Israeli settlements and how to divide Jerusalem.

Israel wants to move ahead more slowly, in part because previous talks in 2000 collapsed over the so-called core issues and because Olmert may not be strong enough politically to make far-reaching concessions. Olmert delivered his mixed message on Monday, holding out hope for a resumption of negotiations, but saying it's still too early to start.

"I came here in order to discuss with you the fundamental issues outstanding between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, hoping that this will lead us soon into negotiations about the creation of a Palestinian state," Olmert said, standing next to Abbas and framed by the Israeli and Palestinian flags.

In Gaza, Hamas dismissed the meeting as useless.

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