Israel and Palestinians seek quick `understandings'
Monday, 01 September 2008

REUTERS, JERUSALEM- Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will try to draw up a document of understandings with the Palestinians to present to Washington before his party names his successor next month, Israeli officials said on Sunday.

Olmert meets Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who has been cool to the idea of any partial agreement, later on Sunday, two days after the Israeli leader was questioned again by police in a corruption scandal forcing him from office.

Olmert's Kadima party holds an election on September 17 to replace him and he has said he would resign after the ballot, although he could stay on as caretaker prime minister for weeks or months until a new government is formed.

Front-runner Tzipi Livni, Israel's foreign minister, has cautioned against papering over differences with Abbas in US-brokered talks and rushing towards an accord. Her comments were echoed by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice during a Middle East visit last week.

Israeli officials confirmed media reports that Olmert wanted to compile with Abbas over the next two weeks a document of understandings that would serve as a framework for a peace deal.

Olmert and Abbas would aim to take the paper to Washington next month so that Bush -- who has voiced optimism he would leave office in January with an Israeli-Palestinian agreement -- could announce a deal had been reached, one official said.

Yasser Abed Rabbo, an aide to Abbas, told Reuters it was "premature to speak about a document." He said "the differences on the core issues are still very wide".

Olmert spokesman Mark Regev, while acknowledging that Israel would press on with efforts "to reach a historic" agreement, said he was not aware of any time limit.

Cabinet minister Eli Yishai of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party said Olmert, about to be replaced as Israel's leader, doesn't have "legal legitimacy to negotiate, and certainly not to reach any agreement".

NEW PROPOSALS

A senior Abbas aide said Rice had proposed several bridging proposals during her 25-hour visit last week and they would be discussed at the Olmert-Abbas meeting in Jerusalem.

They included working out a territorial swap and basing the borders of a future Palestinian state on lines that existed before Israel captured the West Bank in a 1967 war, while taking into account several major Jewish settlement blocs.

The issue of Jerusalem would be resolved as part of the borders debate but religious sites and the walled Old City where they are located would be discussed at a later stage, the aide said.

On the fate of Palestinian refugees, the aide said the United States would work internationally to provide them with compensation and discussions would begin on deciding how many could return to what is now Israel.

There was no immediate Israeli or US comment on the aide's remarks.

Israel's Haaretz newspaper said Olmert may propose international oversight for talks aimed at resolving the dispute over Jerusalem. Israel considers all of Jerusalem its capital, a claim that has not won international recognition.

Palestinians want Arab East Jerusalem, captured by Israel in the 1967 war, as the capital of their future state.

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