After a series of meetings between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, the character of the documented agreement they have been trying to formulate ahead of the summit meeting planned for Washington this November is still uncertain. The prime minister will meet with Abbas today in Jerusalem, and the two will continue their joint effort toward the formulation of an agreement on principles. However, while Abbas would like a detailed document that will include a precise timetable for implementing an agreement, Olmert prefers a one-page document that lists five general principles that will serve as guidelines.
Prior to today's meeting in Jerusalem, Israeli political sources said that Olmert and Abbas will not sign an agreement of principles, but will focus on formulating an agreed-upon document. It is still unclear how the document would be presented during the summit -- whether in the form of a joint declaration by the two leaders, or parallel declarations; or as a summary statement in which President George W. Bush, who will host the summit, would also participate.
For his part, Abbas has asked Olmert to begin writing the document of principles that will be presented at the summit, Palestinian sources say. The two leaders have so far carried out "brainstorming sessions" during their meetings, but now Abbas would like to move on to a stage in which they formulate a document that can be used as a basis for an agreement.
"The PA chairman intents to formulate a detailed document of principles, not a general one, that can include a precise time table for implementation as well as mechanisms for implementation. Olmert prefers a one-page agreement, in which five general principles are included without a precise time table," a source said yesterday.
One of the main purposes of today's meeting is for the two leaders to pinpoint the points of both agreement and dispute, in anticipation of their planned meeting with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in nine days. Rice will try to negotiate the points of dispute with the two.
Palestinian sources said yesterday that Gulf states and Saudi Arabia have asked the United States to pressure Israel to make it possible for an agreement of principles to be completed by the date of the summit. The same sources maintain that these countries have threatened not to participate in the meeting unless an agreement is ready.
The prime minister has also updated Attorney General Menachem Mazuz of the developments in the talks with Abbas, sources in Jerusalem said. The attorney general is of the view that Olmert will have to bring any agreement with the Palestinian Authority before the Knesset for its approval. However, Mazuz is of the opinion 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 more right-wing coalition partners.
Meanwhile, Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin briefed the cabinet yesterday on what he described as "the incessant efforts of terrorist organizations to carry out attacks in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip." Diskin said that there has been a rise in both the number of Qassam rocket attacks and the efforts to carry out manned attacks.
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