Rice Accedes to PM, Won't Discuss Final Status

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will not make any dramatic statements during the press conference in Jerusalem this morning, summarizing her diplomatic efforts in the region in recent days.

Echoing the lack of any substantive progress, the chief PA negotiator, Saeb Erekat, told Haaretz yesterday that there had been positive efforts on the part of the United States, but there was no American plan before to resume negotiations.

The decision to make a lukewarm and substantially softer statement during the press conference was made following deliberations between Rice and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

It is expected that Rice will announce that Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas have agreed to meet regularly and discuss "all issues."

The discussions between the two leaders will initially revolve around confidence-building measures, and will leave an opening for discussions on other issues in the future.

For her part, Rice will continue her periodic visits to the region, in which she will hold parallel talks with Israel and the Palestinians on all issues pertaining to the "political horizon."

Rice postponed the press conference, originally planned for last night, because of differences of opinion with Olmert over the content of her statement.

Olmert met with Rice for a second time yesterday, and expressed his strong opposition to any mention of the "core issues" in the final status agreement - namely Jerusalem, the Palestinian refugees and the 1967 lines.

Rice made it clear she is trying to substantiate the concept of a "political horizon."

It appears that the compromise will be that the issues will be mentioned in passing.

Olmert also asked that any formula for the resumption of negotiations be based on the road map and the stages it proposes (combating terrorism, dismantling outposts, a Palestinian state along interim borders and a final settlement).

Olmert also agreed to begin deliberations on less sensitive issues, such as the security arrangements of a future Palestinian state, and the conditions for implementing the agreement on the basis of the road map.

Olmert also opposed the proposal Rice made, that American mediation replace direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

Maintaining constant and fluid contact with Olmert is for the Palestinians, at this juncture, considered a priority.

Erekat said yesterday that "one of the most important elements from the point of view of the PA is to maintain the channel of communication open between Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas] and Olmert. There is no substitute for this."