Olmert, Abbas and negotiating teams to meet

By Adam Entous, Reuters

JERUSALEM — Israel said Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and their negotiating teams would meet on Tuesday to try to narrow differences over a U.S.-led conference on Palestinian statehood.

Israeli government spokesman David Baker said on Sunday the Olmert-Abbas meeting would be held in the prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem.

Israeli and Palestinian negotiating teams will also hold their first formal meeting on Tuesday. Baker said the teams would work on a “joint statement to be presented at the conclusion of the upcoming international meeting”.

Olmert is seeking a broad-brush joint statement for the conference, planned for mid-to-late November. Abbas wants an explicit “framework” agreement with a timeline for implementation.

“We have to go there with a clear and specific document, after which it could be possible to start detailed negotiations on what we call final status issues,” Abbas said in Cairo on Sunday after meeting Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

“I believe that going there with a general statement would not be beneficial,” he said.

It was unclear to what extent Olmert was prepared to meet Abbas’s appeal to delve deeply into the “final status” issues key to the establishment of a Palestinian state — borders, the future of Jerusalem and Palestinian refugees.

Olmert has been weakened politically since last year’s war in Lebanon, raising doubts among Israelis and Palestinians about his ability to deliver on peace promises.

Abbas, too, wields limited power since Hamas’s takeover of the Gaza Strip in June. Israel has said it plans to release 87 Palestinian prisoners on Monday as a goodwill gesture towards Abbas.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice would visit the region in mid October “for consultations with the Palestinian and Israeli parties, Egypt and maybe other Arab states to prepare for the conference”, the official Middle East News Agency reported.