Olmert, Abbas Aides Make No Progress Before Rice Visit

Aides to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas met early last week in preparation for the visit by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. No progress was made and no follow-up meeting was scheduled. Likewise, no date has been set for an Olmert-Abbas meeting.

Attending the meeting were Olmert's chief of staff, Yoram Turbowicz, and political advisor Shalom Turjeman on the Israeli side and their Palestinian counterparts Rafik el-Husseini and Saeb Erekat.

The Israelis proposed holding a "meeting with no preconditions" between Olmert and Abbas. They rejected the idea of freeing Palestinian prisoners beforehand, explaining that Israel would not release prisoners prior to the return of kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.

The aides' previous meeting was on July 11, the day before the Lebanon war broke out. They have since maintained contact by phone.

Olmert yesterday called his Canadian counterpart, Stephen Harper, to thank him for his government's support for Israel and for the stand taken by Canada during the Francophonie summit in Bucharest last weekend. Harper vetoed the adoption of an anti-Israel amendment at the conference. Since Harper became Canada's premier earlier this year, his country has taken a strong pro-Israel stance.

Yoav Stern adds: Saeb Erekat yesterday confirmed the meeting last week between aides to Abbas and Olmert, which he attended. "I hope we will eventually be able to bring about a meeting between the two leaders, on condition that it be preceded by proper preparations," Erekat told Haaretz.