FM Livni Says Israel Agrees to Discuss Terms of Palestinian State

Rice: Olmert, Abbas have agreed to meet biweekly; says talks could include discussions on creating Palestinian state.

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni told European lawmakers on Tuesday that Israel had agreed "to conduct a dialogue on the conditions for establishing a Palestinian state," according to a ministry statement.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas will hold biweekly meetings mediated by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. The American secretary, in making the announcement Tuesday at a Jerusalem press conference, added she would join them "from time to time" to help them along.

Her announcement was met with satisfaction from the Prime Minister's Bureau. "Since a permanent agreement is not possible, we agreed to continue negotiations regarding the future Palestinian state to prevent the dialogue from reaching a deadlock," Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said. Israel would present its security needs within the framework of the meetings, she said, adding "the implementation will be done according to the road map, which established that the road to Palestinian statehood is through combating terror."

The Jerusalem press conference concluded Rice's visit to Israel and the PA. She rejected claims that her visit amounted to disappointing results. The fact that Olmert and Abbas had agreed to the biweekly meetings was an achievement, she said, saying they represent an important bilateral channel.

According to Rice, the meetings between Olmert and Abbas would focus on immediate needs such as freedom of movement for Palestinians. This issue would also include the management of border crossings into Israel, efforts to foil arms smuggling and the firing of Qassam rockets from the Gaza Strip.

Rice said she had instructed the U.S. security coordinator to Israel and the Palestinian Authority, Lieutenant General Keith Dayton, to assist the talks. Progress in the meetings will be measured by clear standards set in advance, she said.

"In their discussions together, the parties will also begin to discuss the development of a political horizon consistent with the establishment of a Palestinian state in accordance with the road map," she said. Rice stressed these were "initial discussions to build confidence between the parties."

The visiting secretary of state went on to say that "Palestinians must know that their state will be viable. Israelis must know that a future state of Palestine will be a source of security, not a threat to it." She was not sure whether the negotiations would yield a breakthrough before the U.S. presidential elections next year.

Tuesday, Rice met with the families of Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, the Israeli soldiers captured by Hezbollah in July, and the family of Gilad Shalit, kidnapped by Palestinian gunmen in a June 25 border raid.

Rice said she would do what she could to help free the three Israeli soldiers. Rice told their families she had no new information on the soldiers' fate. She said she would bring up the issue of the abducted soldiers in conversations with Arab and European parties who were in contact with their captors. "The meeting was very important because she knows the cases, but she does not know the people behind the names," said Noam Shalit, father of Gilad.