Olmert Aides to Meet With Abbas' Men

Move follows blow-up between prime minister and Defense Minister Peretz.

Senior aides to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Yoram Turbowicz and Shalom Turjeman, are scheduled to meet tomorrow with Rafiq Husseini and Saeb Erekat, advisers to Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. A source in the Prime Minister's Office said yesterday that it is still not clear when an Olmert-Abbas meeting will be scheduled, adding that the prime minister is not working on a diplomatic plan, and that no such plan was presented in Washington during his visit there last week.

Nonetheless, the meeting between Israeli and Palestinian officials comes after growing pressure from senior ministers, including Foriegn Minister Tzipi Livni, Vice Premier Shimon Peres and Defense Minister Amir Peretz, who say it is necessary for the prime minister to initiate a plan to break the diplomatic impasse with the Palestinian Authority.

During the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday, Olmert asked his ministers to stop "bringing [up] a new diplomatic initiative every day."

Olmert's response to calls for a diplomatic agenda was rejected by Defense Minister Amir Peretz, who feels that he is being sidelined by the prime minister's rejectionist stance.

The issue came to a head on Sunday, when Peretz and Olmert clashed over the Labor leader's request to meet with Abbas.

"No one will meet with Abu Mazen [Abbas] before me," Olmert told Peretz.

Meanwhile, Peretz and Abbas talked on the telephone on Sunday, following arrangements made by MK Mohammed Barakeh (Hadash-Ta'al).

Abbas told Peretz of his plans to hold a conference of all Palestinian factions in an effort to gain a general cease-fire in the Gaza Strip.

The Palestinian leaders asked Israel to reciprocate in response to such a move and promised to deal with the smuggling of weapons into the Gaza Strip from Sinai.

Peretz asked for an urgent meeting with Olmert and informed him of the conversation.

The prime minister told his defense minister to let the matter rest.

"We are dealing with it," Olmert said. "A cease-fire is not declared in five minutes. Orderly discussions are necessary."

"I am not a minister of assassinations," Peretz responded angrily, referring to the policy of targeted killings. "I am the head of the peace camp! I need to talk about a cease-fire. I am not only responsible for the intensity of the fire!" Peretz continued in protest.

The incident was interpreted by Peretz and Olmert differently. Peretz complained that Olmert had undermined a bold effort to gain an end to the Qassam rocket attacks. Olmert opposed what he saw as an effort to bypass his authority, and his aides described the Peretz-Abbas telephone conversation as an exercise void of substance.