The joint statement to be formulated by Israel and the Palestinians ahead of the regional meeting in Annapolis next month may include references to the core issues of the final-status agreement. However, such references would be non-committal, and the statement will deal only with issues that enjoy clear agreement.
Israeli sources say the conference has been set for November 26. Sources in Jerusalem said the joint statement will be "significant enough but general enough to avoid a blow-up and a crisis."
They also said "the parties understood there was no point to pledging that the statement would include agreement on core issues, but that if there were issues on which agreement could be be reached, they would be included in the statement."
"The stage at which the parties are at now is like a young couple that first moves in together," a Palestinian source told Haaretz. "It shows progress, and can lead to marriage, that is, to a peace agreement, but it might bring up all kinds of differences of opinions and lead to a painful break-up."
Senior Palestinian Authority officials said Olmert and Abbas' giving a green light to the negotiating teams to start work indicates headway, although no progress has been made on the permanent status issues. The negotiating teams are to meet Sunday to work on the joint statement.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is to arrive in Israel and the Palestinian Authority on Monday to see if a joint statement can include the core issues of Jerusalem, refugees and borders. A government official said that as Rice worked over the past two weeks to persuade the Arab countries to join the summit, she realized that "success for the Arab countries would be only if the core issues were mentioned in one way or another in the joint statement."
Olmert said during his meeting with Abbas: "I am serious in my intentions, and I want to work together so the regional meeting will be a success."
Said Abbas, "I believe Olmert, and agree that timetables will just overshadow and disturb."
Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki reiterated statements by Abbas that participants at the Annapolis summit would need to set a timetable to implement the agreement, and that within six months the Palestinians want to see formulation of the agreement completed. He added that Abbas would bring any agreement to a referendum.
An Israeli source said, "There was agreement at the meeting that it was not necessary to talk about timetables."
The source said the Palestinians understood progress should be made in keeping with the road map, "because among other things they are not prepared for the war on terror."
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