Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has no intention of imposing on Israel "anything that will not be acceptable to it," during the negotiations with the Palestinians in preparation for the summit at Annapolis, according to sources in the Prime Minister's Bureau.
The Palestinians, anticipating that Rice will seek to divert them from their demands for a detailed joint declaration draft ahead of the summit, are concerned that the document will not include a timetable for the completion of the final status negotiations.
Rice, who will meet with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah later today, is expected to try and bridge the differences between the two sides, preparing the ground for the Annapolis summit.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced yesterday that Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni will head the Israeli negotiating team in talk with the Palestinians. The two sides are scheduled to hold another series of talks today.
Speaking to the cabinet yesterday, Olmert said that his decision to appoint Livni came after "I was convinced that it is necessary to include a senior politician in the negotiations with the Palestinians."
Olmert said that his chief of staff, Yoram Turbowicz, who had served as the head of the negotiating team, had suggested Livni, "emphasizing the fact that if the Palestinian head of negotiators is Abu Ala [former prime minister Ahmed Qureia], then it is appropriate that the Israeli side will also be represented by a senior government figure."
Olmert also told the cabinet that "we are very much interested in the basis of the declaration being approved by the relevant persons in Israel and among the Palestinians, with subsequent talks about the possibility of establishing a Palestinian state next to Israel."
The prime minister spoke out against a timetable for the negotiations, adding that "myself and others believe that such a timetable causes more obstacles."
For her part, Livni is concerned that there may be a crisis in the talks over the coming weeks as a result of exaggerated expectations on the part of both the Palestinians and the international community.
During his meeting with Rice, Olmert said that "I would very much like for there to be a joint declaration at the summit, but the Palestinians also know that this had never been a precondition for holding the summit."
He also reiterated to the secretary of state that the implementation of the diplomatic process must follow the road map.
Palestinian sources told Haaretz yesterday that today's meeting with Rice troubles them because the secretary of state will try to convince them to withdraw their demand for a timetable stating when the negotiations would end.
They expect Rice to raise the coalition problems of Olmert's government and the fact that mention of a timetable and the core issues of contention - refugees, Jerusalem, borders - will result in the government's fall.
The same sources said that the Palestinians will ask Rice to press Israel to agree on a detailed statement closing the Annapolis summit, which will mention the core issues.
The Palestinians are also expected to raise two other issues: the Israeli decision to expropriate land in E1 - a corridor east of Jerusalem - and the decision to resume excavations near the Temple Mount. Senior PA officials will ask Rice to press Israel for an immediate halt to the implementation of these decision.
Rice met yesterday with Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Minister of Industry and Trade Eli Yishai, and Finance Minister Roni Bar-On - all of whom warned against focusing on the core issues. "The Israeli public feels that the concessions are only getting bigger from one summit to another," Yishai told Rice. "From our point of view, any discussion of Jerusalem is out of the question and any agreements on the core issues will mean the fall of the government," he warned.
However, Rice was adamant in her position. "We have rejected this approach for decades," she said. "Decisions must be made without running away from the issues. Only dealing with the core issues will bolster the diplomatic process." The secretary of state also declared that, "The time has come for a Palestinian state. I agree that the partners are weak, but we must bolster them."
Barak informed Rice that a permanent roadblock on the road connecting Bethlehem and Hebron will be dismantled.
The defense minister also told Rice that the PA has still not completed the deployment of 500 Palestinian police officers in Nablus, even though they received permission to do so during her previous visit to the region.
Barak reiterated that the ability of Israel to operate freely in security matters in the West Bank is a basic principle that must be protected in the future as well.
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