PM Aide: No Peace Talks Unless PA Gov't Recognizes Israel

Olmert, Abbas set to meet Sunday; Report: PM to tells Abbas that Israel won't sever communication with him; Livni, Rice to meet.

A spokeswoman for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Saturday evening that Israel will not consider a resumption of peace talks unless it wins recognition from a new Palestinian government, and unless Palestinian militants halt rocket fire from Gaza.

"We are at a pre-negotiation stage," Miri Eisin said. "We are not at phase where we're actually talking about substance. We're at a point in which we're trying to build confidence between the sides."

The prime minister is due to meet Sunday afternoon with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas at Olmert's official residence in Jerusalem for a second face to face summit in one month. The first talks were held on February 19 in Jerusalem.

Olmert is expected to tell Abbas that Israel will not talk with the Palestinian unity government until it accepts the principles of the Quartet: recognizing Israel, abandoning terror and recognizing previous agreements.

The prime minister is also expected to warn Abbas against appointing to the cabinet Palestinian figures who have established contacts with Israel. "If Abbas wants figures like Salam Fayad and Mohammed Dahlan to continue their contacts with us, he should not make them ministers in the unity government," a government source in Jerusalem said.

Former PA minister Ghassan Khatib told Haaretz the two leaders would be discussing a prisoner swap and the expansion of the cease-fire in the West Bank.

Olmert is to address easing restrictions on Palestinians in the territories, and demand that Abbas work to stop the Qassam rockets and the smuggling of weapons in the Gaza Strip, and have kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit released. Olmert is to inform Abbas that at the end of March, hours at the Karni crossing between Israel and the Gaza Strip will be extended until 11 P.M. to reduce lines and delays.

The Palestinians want to resume talks on a final peace deal which broke down more than six years ago. However, Senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said progress toward that goal is unlikely at the moment. "These are difficult times between us and I don't want to raise expectations," Erekat said. He added the Palestinian Authority had a great interest in keeping the lines of communication open with the prime minister.

"Abbas will ask Olmert to halt Israeli military operations in the West Bank, as part of an effort to broaden an informal cease-fire, in place in Gaza since November. Olmert and Abbas will also discuss Egyptian attempts to win the release of the Israeli soldier kidnapped in Gaza in June," Erekat said.

Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas said Saturday he expects a new Palestinian government to be formed within four or five days, and to seek parliament approval in a week.

The Olmert-Abbas summit comes ahead of a string of diplomatic meetings. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni will meet with United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in the coming days as part of a trip to the United States that began Saturday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said.

Defense Minister Amir Peretz also left Saturday for the United States, where he will meet U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

Rice likely to return to Mideast soonThe U.S. secretary of state is expected to visit the Middle East in the next several weeks in order to continue efforts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the U.S. State Department said on Friday.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack declined to provide details on the likely trip but said it was expected to include meetings with Israeli and Palestinian officials and possibly other regional players.

"I would expect that within the next several weeks she will travel again to the region on the issue of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict," he told reporters, saying no final decisions have been made on her travel.

"I would expect that she would, as it stands right now, meet with Israelis, meet with Palestinians and she may also have some other meetings in the region with people that she normally meets with," he added, declining to provide details.

After talks with Olmert and Abbas in February, Rice visited Jordan for talks with officials from the so-called Arab Quartet - Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Jordan.

UN chief announces March visit to Israel, PA UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Friday that he would visit Israel and the Palestinian territories later this month in an effort to help revive the peace process between the two sides.

Ban said he would make the trip, which will include a stop in Lebanon, on his way to the Arab League summit in Saudi Arabia on March 28-29.

Ban said he chose the Middle East for his second major overseas trip as UN chief because security in the Middle East is one of the most important issues facing the world today.

Ban visited several African countries last month.

The UN chief singled out the Israel-Palestinian conflict as one of the most pressing in the region, saying resolving it would create a conducive political atmosphere for the resolution of other issues in the Middle East.

"I'm looking forward to, first of all, a meeting with leaders in the region and making myself available for any consultation and to make contribution to [the] peace process," he said.

Ban has been involved in U.S.-backed efforts to restart the Israel-Palestinian peace effort after a six-year freeze.

Ban has also pledged to take part in another round of talks among the Quartet of Middle East peace negotiators - The United Nations, the United States, Russia and the European Union - slated to take place in two months.

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