US to host peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians

July 30th, 2008 - 7:39 am ICT by IANS  

Jerusalem, July 30 (DPA) Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni was set to leave for Washington for another round of peace negotiations with Palestinians under the auspices of the US, the Israeli Foreign Ministry said Tuesday. Former Palestinian premier Ahmed Qureia would represent the Palestinian side in the three-way talks with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, US Vice-President Dick Cheney and national security advisor Stephen Hadley.

The talks will take place against the backdrop of comments by Israeli Premier Ehud Olmert Monday that put a damper on hopes for a comprehensive Israeli-Palestinian peace deal which would include an agreement on the future status of Jerusalem.

“I do not believe we can reach understandings this year which will include the subject of Jerusalem,” Olmert told a Knesset committee Monday.

But, he added, other core issue in negotiations were “bridgeable.” The premier had already earlier hinted he wants an agreement that addresses such key issues as borders and refugees, but sidelines Jerusalem.

A senior Palestinian official meanwhile Monday described the Washington meeting as a “last chance” for the negotiations, whose progress is unclear.

The talks, which resumed at the turn of the year after a seven- year-hiatus, are being held amid a virtual media blackout, and with conflicting reports and little concrete indication of whether or not the sides are inching toward an agreement.

The US is putting pressure on the two sides to agree to a peace deal before US President George W Bush’s term ends in early 2009 and Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas pledged at the Annapolis peace summit in November to try and forge a deal by the end of 2008.

But it uncertain whether the Palestinians will be willing to accept a deal which does not settle the disputed status of Jerusalem, given how important the issue, which is highly emotional for both sides, is to their national aspirations.

Palestinian officials publicly reacted angrily to Olmert’s statement Monday, charging it showed Israel was “not serious” about reaching a comprehensive agreement and pointing out Abbas and Olmert agreed in Annapolis, Maryland last year to debate all the core issues of the conflict.

Israel captured East Jerusalem from Jordan in the 1967 war, and annexed it shortly afterwards, saying that a united city was its eternal capital. Palestinians, for their part, want East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.

Any deal on the city would have to decide the fate of Jewish neighbourhoods in Muslim East Jerusalem, and settle the sovereignty of the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount compound, built on the site of the Jewish Biblical Temple, but also holy to Muslims, who say it marks the sport from where the prophet Mohammed ascended to heaven.

But both leaders would also have to sell any deal to their electorates, something Olmert, his immediate political future in doubt after a slew of corruption investigations against him, would find difficult to do.

In addition, the premier has a hostile relationship with Livni, who is touted as his possible successor and who has made her desire for his job increasingly clear.

The Ma’ariv daily reported Tuesday that Olmert and Livni engaged in an argument while sitting around the cabinet table in the Knesset Monday, and had to be silenced by another minister.

The argument reported dealt with the negotiations with the Palestinians and with the Syrians.

The offices of both Olmert and Livni described the quarrel as “a general consultation on political matters.”

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