PM, Abbas to Meet in Jericho to Discuss Palestinian Statehood

PLO's Abed Rabbo: Final status issues to be addressed in meeting; sources say conference to be held in Nov.

Government sources confirmed on Saturday that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas will meet on Monday in the West Bank city of Jericho.

The Saudi newspaper Al-Watan reported that the meeting, which it said was slated for Sunday, would tackle the framework for a future Palestinian state.

The meeting will address final status issues in an attempt to make progress ahead of a Mideast peace conference announced last month by U.S. President George W. Bush, top PLO official Yasser Abed Rabbo said.

Jerusalem sources expect the summit will take place in November.

Palestinian newspaper Al-Ayyam reported Saturday that U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, during her visit, asked Abbas and Olmert to intensify secret discussions and senior-level meetings - meaning, presumably, between the two of them, and not between their associates.

Results of intensified talks, according to Al-Ayyam, are to be presented at the conference. The report said that once an agreement is struck between Olmert and Abbas, the latter will call for early elections for both the presidency and the Palestinian Legislative Council.

The Al-Watan report said that the two have already begun discussions on an Agreement of Principles. The claim echoes a report earlier this week in the London-based Arabic-language newspaper Al-Hayat, which said that the two leaders had agreed to open a secret channel to discuss final status issues, which include such sticking points as refugees, Jerusalem and final borders.

Abbas aide Saeb Erekat said Rice was "serious" about starting talks on key questions.

"No one can talk about 'fundamental' issues without solving the problems of borders, settlements, Jerusalem and refugees, because these are the fundamental issues for the establishment of a Palestinian state," Erekat said

Using an agreement as a rallying cry for new elections is meant to increase the chances of Abbas' Fatah movement to beat rival Hamas in a vote. Hamas swept that last PA elections in 2006, but was dismissed by Abbas from the government after it took over the Gaza Strip in bloody fighting in June.