Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Wednesday that Israel was ready to hand over some security control in the West Bank to Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas' forces, an Israeli government spokesman said.
In their first meeting since Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip, Olmert told Rice, however, that Israel must first receive "proper security guarantees."
The prime minister added that Hamas had to be "kept out of the game" as Israel explores new cooperation with the Palestinians.
"[Olmert and Rice] spoke about future security cooperation with the Palestinians and Israel's concerns ... about transferring security control of various cities and areas, including Israel's condition that it only happen after proper security guarantees have been given," said David Baker, a spokesman for the Prime Minister's Office.
Baker said Israel wanted guarantees that "terror will not emerge in those areas again".
"Those security concerns have not yet been satisfied," he said.
Olmert also spoke with Rice about removing roadblocks to improve the freedom of movement for Palestinians in the West Bank, Baker said.
Speaking to reporters after talks with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni in Jerusalem, Rice said her meetings in Israel and Ramallah, where she will hold talks with Abbas, are intended to take advantage of "mutual opportunities" to advance the two-state solution.
"This is a time to seize opportunities and it is a time to proceed in a prepared and careful way, as one does not want to miss opportunities because of a lack of preparation but it is nonetheless a time when we have to take advantage of what is before us," she said.
Rice also met with President Shimon Peres and Defense Minister Ehud Barak.
Peres said following the meeting that the United States was leading Israel closer, "more than ever before, to the conclusive chapter of the negotiations with the Palestinians."
Peres also invited U.S. President George W. Bush to visit Israel during the country's 60th Independence Day celebrations next year.
Barak said in statement that, "There is a need to build a political horizon with the Palestinians and a need to make their everyday lives easier, though our priority and concern is the security of Israeli citizens."
Livni: Israel will not miss this opportunityLivni told Rice that Israel also recognized that this was a propitious time for peace efforts, which it aimed to exploit.
"There is a Palestinian government which meets the requirements of the international community, a government that believes in the vision of the two states, a government that shows determination to change the situation and Israel is not going to miss this opportunity," she said.
Regarding the issue of a regional peace conference sponsored and hosted by the United States, Rice said that no invitations had yet been issued, despite securing the backing of Riyadh for such a summit.
"We haven't sent any invitations yet," she said. "There is no need for anybody to say whether they are going to come or not."
The Saudi foreign minister had indicated earlier Wednesday that his country may attend the conference, which is set to take place in the fall. Israel responded positively to the hint that Riyadh may send a delegation.
"When we get an invitation from the minister [Rice] to attend, when this takes place, we will study it and we will be keen to attend," Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal said at a press conference with Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
"We are interested in the peace conference, one that deals with the heart of the peace process, the issues of peace, the core issues, not one that is just a podium for meetings and talk that do not enrich peace," he said.
Saudi Arabia has no diplomatic relations with Israel, and a conference attended by both countries would be hailed as a diplomatic breakthrough.
Olmert's office said after the Saudi statement Wednesday that Israel hopes many Arab countries will attend the meeting, including Saudi Arabia.
Olmert's office also said that the regional meeting would also be able to grant an umbrella to the bilateral talks between Israel and the Palestinians.
A source in Jerusalem told Haaretz he believed that the Saudi decision to attend the meeting was sparked by the U.S. government's announcement of a $20 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia over the weekend, and the fact that Israel did not publicly object to the deal.
On Tuesday, government sources in Jerusalem told Haaretz that Olmert was planning to ask Rice during her visit to Israel, scheduled for Wednesday afternoon, to include Saudi Arabia in the international peace conference.
The sources explained Olmert hopes this will demonstrate that his government is making diplomatic headway.
Rice's visit to Jerusalem is the last stop on her tour of the region. Rice, accompanied by U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, met with Arab League representatives in Egypt on Tuesday.
Want to enjoy 'Zen' reading - with no ads and just the article? Subscribe todaySubscribe now