Olmert says hopes to meet Abbas in coming days

By Allyn Fisher-Ilan

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said he hoped to meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas soon for a summit the international community believes could help revive peace talks.

But Olmert cautioned against expecting quick results,

especially with the Islamist Hamas movement running the Palestinian government. Hamas is sworn to destroy Israel.

“I am making a very great effort to have a dialogue … I want to meet with him, we should start a process,” Olmert said in an interview with Israel Radio broadcast on Thursday, referring to the moderate Abbas.

“How it will work out, how it will end, that we shall see.”

Olmert said he hoped the meeting with Abbas could be held in the coming days, although he gave no precise time frame.

Next week, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will visit Israel, the Palestinian territories, Egypt and Saudi Arabia to try to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace moves, a State Department spokesman said.

Rice is due to leave Washington on Sunday.

Since 34 days of fighting between Israel and Lebanese Hizbollah guerrillas ended on Aug. 14, the United States has been under growing pressure from allies in Europe and the Middle East to take a more active role in efforts to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict.

“It is hard for the international community to see a situation in which (peacemaking) is frozen in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They expect some sort of movement in the post-Lebanon war era,” Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livi, commenting on Rice’s coming visit, told Channel 1 TV.

But Middle East analysts doubt Rice can make much progress.

NO PREPARATIONS

Olmert’s spokesman, Assaf Shariv, said no preparations had been made for any meeting between the Israeli leader and Abbas.

Senior Abbas aide Saeb Erekat said the Palestinian leader was ready to meet Olmert, adding he also was not aware of any preparations for talks.

Such a gathering would be their first formal summit since Olmert took over as Israeli leader in January when former prime minister Ariel Sharon was felled by a massive stroke.

Peace talks collapsed in 2000 before the start of a Palestinian uprising and dimmed further when Hamas took office last March after trouncing Abbas’s Fatah movement in elections.

The Palestinians accuse Israel of giving Abbas the cold shoulder before Hamas won elections.

Some world leaders have said the recent war in Lebanon underscored the need for Israel and the Palestinians to resume peace talks to remove a major trigger for regional tensions.

Olmert told Army Radio talks with Abbas should take place on the basis of the 2003 U.S.-backed peace “road map”.

That plan has stalled with neither side meeting their obligations under phase one of the document — the Palestinians to start disarming militant groups and Israel to freeze building Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank.

Few analysts see a quick resumption of peace talks.

“We cannot even get beyond phase one of the road map,” said Jonathan Spyer, an analyst at Israel’s Herzliya Center.

Another reason analysts expect little movement is Olmert’s preoccupation with the aftermath of the Lebanon war.

On Thursday, he made his first appearance before a government-appointed commission investigating criticism that Israel’s political and military leaders mishandled the month-long conflict against Hizbollah.

The closed-door hearings could last for months.

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