PM to Caution Abbas on Cabinet Appointments

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will try to persuade Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas not to appoint ministers to the unity government who have ties with Israel. The two are scheduled to meet today.

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. "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.

Senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said the Palestinian Authority had a great interest in keeping the lines of communication open with the prime minister. He said the meeting was an important one, but that expectations should not be raised since there are disputes on both sides.

Washington intends to continue talks "on a personal basis" with moderates like Fayad if they join the unity government.

Olmert and Abbas are to meet today at 5 P.M. at Olmert's official residence in Jerusalem. "It is important to maintain a spark of hope and a chance for the political process and to continue to foster a Palestinian partner," the source 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.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who will be back in Israel on March 24, is to meet with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni Wednesday in Washington.