News Analysis: Olmert-Abbas summit far from tangible 2007-09-11 05:12:06   Print

    JERUSALEM, Sept. 10 (Xinhua) -- Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian National Authority (PNA) Chairman Mahmoud Abbas agreed to set up working groups to advance issues pertaining to the two-state solution in their latest round of talks on Monday.

    However, just like what Olmert's Spokeswoman Miri Eisin said after the meeting, "no dramatic decisions were made," except that some day-to-day matters were discussed, including West Bank roadblocks and Palestinian prisoners release.


    Although "no dramatic issues" were touched during the three-hour meeting in Jerusalem, the two leaders still failed to figure out the rather innocuous problems.

    Abbas asked Olmert to release Palestinian prisoners as a goodwill gesture for the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan. The prime minister promised to take the proposal to cabinet, but did not specify when and how many prisoner will be released.

    In response to Abbas' request of relieving restriction on Palestinians' movement, Olmert also has little leeway except for a lip service that he would consider it and consult security establishment officials.

    However, Olmert's plan to recommend the release of additional Palestinian prisoners drew staunch criticism from several cabinet ministers, including Strategic Affairs Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Tourism Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch, and Minister of Industry and Trade Eli Yishai.

    Israel freed more than 250 Palestinian prisoners as a gesture to embolden Abbas following Hamas' violent takeover of the Gaza Strip.

    Moreover, Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) and the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) vehemently opposed to removing roadblocks in the West Bank. Israeli defense establishment wants the Palestinians first to prove their capabilities in combating militants in the West Bank.

    The U.S. administration expected tangible results of the talks between Abbas and Olmert, the second of its kind in 14 days.

    The two sides would discuss ongoing security and economic issues as well as the "political horizon" - referring to what a Palestinian state would look like, according to Olmert's spokeswoman.

    She, however, cautioned against outsized expectations of the conference, saying all issues will not be resolved by November.


    While the Palestinians want to draw up a detailed framework agreement, including timeline for the establishment of a Palestinian state, to bring to the U.S.-proposed international conference, Israel wants to see a more broad-brush declaration of principles.

    The two different approaches, Israeli officials said, were part of the problem the two sides were having in drawing up a document to take to the international conference.

    Israel's Attorney General Menachem Mazuz said that Olmert will have to bring any agreement with the Palestinians before the Knesset (Parliament) for its approval.

    However, he believes that in the case of a less definitive document, such as a shared declaration, it would be sufficient, from a legal point of view, to seek only cabinet approval.

    It is therefore very likely that Olmert will make do with the lesser document, one that only his cabinet will be required to support, thereby minimizing political friction and possible pressure from Yisrael Beitenu and Shas, two of the right-wing coalition partners.

    Olmert, unlike his predecessor Ariel Sharon, has neither a strong Knesset coalition nor popular support to make "dramatic" progress on the toughest issues such as the status of Jerusalem, final borders and the return of Palestinian refugees.


    Nevertheless, another challenge facing both Olmert and Abbas is rather what to do with Hamas. Israeli analysts believed that any agreement that the two sides might work out will be meaningless if Hamas retains its current strength in the Gaza Strip.

    Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin briefed the cabinet on Sunday on what he described as "the incessant efforts of terrorist organizations to carry out attacks in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip."

    He said that there has been a rise in both the number of Qassam rocket attacks and the efforts to carry out manned attacks.

    He revealed that Hamas is trying to restore its military infrastructure in the West Bank in order to carry out attacks.

    To avoid a Hamas takeover of the West Bank, Israeli officials believed that "at this point we must strengthen Abbas' government and assist him in building up his security might and institutes of governance."

Editor: Yan Liang
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