Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas held a “summit” meeting in Jerusalem on Thursday, the first since the Annapolis Conference on 27 November (they were supposed to meet every two weeks thereafter — or maybe the two-weeks were supposed to start only after the first post-Annapolis session of the negotiating teams, which was supposed to be held on 12 or 13 December if I am not mistaken, then one was scheduled for 23 December, but was actually held on the 24th).
Palestinian officials said they were going to focus on one issue only — halting Israeli settlement activities.
What was the result?
Haaretz reported that “Israel will not build any new [n.b., read NEW] settlements and will stop expropriating land in the West Bank, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas during a meeting in Jerusalem on Thursday. Olmert told Abbas that Israel ‘will take no steps that will hurt our ability to arrive at final status negotiations with the Palestinians’, and added that Israel wants to carry out the negotiations ‘in good faith’.” The Haaretz report is here.
YNet reported that “An informed Israeli official said that ‘the issues that have slowed down the negotiations have been neutralized’. According to sources in Jerusalem, during the two-hour meeting the leaders agreed that the sides would refrain from taking any steps that would hinder efforts to reach a permanent peace agreement, but Olmert did not guarantee Abbas that Israel would not build in Har Homa. ‘The prime minister has not promised to freeze tenders that have already been published and are already underway’, a senior Israeli official told reporters. However, officials said, the PM did reiterate his commitment not to confiscate land or set up additional settlements in the West Bank. Sources in Jerusalem told Ynet that, unlike in the past, the Palestinian demands raised during Thursday’s discussions would not stall the negotiations and would be dealt with in upcoming meetings”. The YNet report is posted here.
And, the Jerusalem Post reported that “There will be no new building tenders issued for construction in West Bank settlements and the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Har Homa, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert pledged Thursday during a meeting between Israeli and Palestinian negotiating teams in Jerusalem, Army Radio reported…while the prime minister vowed that no new tenders would be issued for the east Jerusalem neighborhood, he insisted that tenders already approved could not be canceled”. The JPost report is here.
Before the meeting, Haaretz reported that an official in Jerusalem said: “We want to change the direction of the negotiations … The first two meetings of the negotiating teams failed and we would want to see positive progress.” The earlier Haaretz report is here.
While the Israeli press was upbeat, the international news agencies reported that the meeting appeared to have been a failure.
AP reported that “Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Thursday held their first summit since renewing peace talks last month, but failed to resolve a dispute over planned Israeli construction in east Jerusalem. Abbas demanded at the meeting that Israel freeze its plan to expand the Jewish Har Homa neighborhood, Palestinian officials said. Abbas had appealed to U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice ahead of the meeting to pressure Israel to halt the project, Palestinian officials said. But an Israeli official said after the Olmert-Abbas meeting that Israel continued to claim a right to build in Har Homa, which lies in the eastern sector of Jerusalem that Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast war and later annexed. Palestinians claim east Jerusalem as their future capital. Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said Abbas stressed the need to stop all settlement activities in order to facilitate the talks on a final peace accord, which were launched at an international conference on the Mideast in Annapolis, Md. But although he reported no progress on narrowing the gaps between the two sides, both sides described the two-hour meeting, held at Olmert’s official residence, as ‘positive’ — possibly in an effort to defuse tensions before the arrival in the region next month of President Bush. Bush is coming to the region for the first time in his seven-year tenure in a bid to build on momentum from the Annapolis conference”. The AP report is here.
Reuters reported that “Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert balked on Thursday at a total freeze in settlement activity, a key demand of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas for progress in U.S.-backed peace talks. But officials on both sides said they would continue negotiations that have bogged down since Israel announced plans to build hundreds of ew homes in an area near Jerusalem known to Israelis as Har Homa and to Palestinians as Jabal Abu Ghneim. ‘We won’t agree with the Palestinians on every issue on day one’ [day one????], Olmert’s spokesman, Mark Regev, said after the two-hour meeting between the leaders at Olmert’s Jerusalem residence. ‘The Palestinians have their positions. We have ours. And the commitment is to work to overcome gaps’ … While Olmert agreed not to take any steps that might prejudice the outcome of the statehood negotiations, he reiterated Israel’s position on Har Homa, Regev said. A senior Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said: ‘The prime minister has not promised to freeze tenders that have already been published and are already under way’. Israel has a different interpretation of its road map obligations, arguing that construction in built-up areas of existing settlements is permissible as long as no new settlements are built and no additional occupied lands are confiscated. During the meeting, Olmert called on the Palestinians to meet their own road map commitments to rein in militants in the West Bank and the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, a condition set by Israel for establishing a Palestinian state, officials said”.
On Friday, the Associated Press added that “Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said Friday that Olmert has not called off plans to build the new homes in Har Homa, and has not ordered a halt to all construction in West Bank settlements. Israel will not confiscate land for new settlement construction and will not ‘outwardly expand’ its West Bank settlements, Regev said, meaning that construction can continue inside the settlements’ existing borders. Israel also has canceled financial incentives designed to persuade Israelis to live in the West Bank, Regev said. ‘But in the Israeli perspective, the West Bank is not Jerusalem and Jerusalem is not the West Bank‘, he said.” This AP report is published here.