Olmert: Annapolis is a starting point

What to expect at Annapolis and after

[..] Israeli sources confirmed Thursday night that the prime minister was considering a settlement freeze ahead of Annapolis. According to some Israeli officials, a de facto settlement freeze has already been in place for the last five years.

Israeli and US sources said another visit to the region by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was expected before the Maryland gathering.

PA officials said Thursday they were pleased with Israeli pledges to resume peace talks after the conference and were now less concerned about the statement of principles that had bogged down earlier negotiations. Israeli, Palestinian and US officials have all indicated in recent days that sticking points are slowly being resolved.

The Palestinians had insisted the document outline the general principles of a peace agreement and provide a timeline for granting them independence. The Israelis sought a vaguer, non-binding agreement.

With negotiators making little progress on these issues, Palestinian officials said they were turning their focus away from the document and toward post-summit talks after receiving Israeli and US assurances that peace efforts would move into high gear after the conference.

“We were hoping for a document that would include defined limits and guiding resolutions for every difficult point,” said Rafiq Husseini, a top aide to Abbas. “I’m not sure we’ll get it.”

He said he was pleased that there is now talk of reviving the road map.

Other Palestinian officials said Abbas was especially encouraged by Olmert’s speech Sunday night, in which the Israeli leader suggested that a deal could be reached by the end of Bush’s term in January 2009.

Olmert described the Annapolis summit as a “starting point” for talks on Palestinian statehood, including the core issues that have scuttled past peace efforts: the final borders between Israel and a future Palestine, the status of Jerusalem and the fate of Palestinian refugees.

Olmert also said he is ready to carry out Israel’s initial obligations under the road map – a freeze in Jewish settlement activity in the West Bank – and said he expected the Palestinians to meet their road map commitment of thwarting terrorism.

A US diplomat said Washington was encouraged by the latest Palestinian position, which appears to be in line with Israeli and American thinking.

“We’ve never envisioned Annapolis as a meeting that hammers out core issues, but rather sets the stage for parties to work on the core issues in an atmosphere of confidence,” the diplomat said.

November 9, 2007 | Comments Off on Olmert: Annapolis is a starting point

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