Israeli and Palestinian talks: 'Only a beginning'

Israeli Prime Minister  Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas have met in Jerusalem on Sunday to discuss the general outlines of Palestinian statehood and other day-to-day issues.

The meeting was the first of regular fortnightly meetings agreed on by Abbas and Olmert during a visit by U.S Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice last month.

But the expectations from both sides were low. 

Palestinians accuse Israel of trying to appease the United States and not dealing with issues that serve the interests of the Palestinian people.

For their part, the Israeli public has lost faith in President Abbas, arguing that he does not have control over the Palestinian public.

“We understand that the Israeli side, they are not interested in a serious peace process, they are not interested in the achievement of a compromise, a political compromise. They just want to gain more time to continue their colonial projects, including the settlements, the wall,” believes Ghazi Hamad, HAMAS Spokesperson.

Israeli premier Ehud Olmert says that the regular meetings he plans to hold with Abbas will not include any discussion of the core issues of the conflict. This means that for now at least, the fate of Jerusalem and a solution to Palestinian refugees who lost their homes in 1948 when the State of Israel was established, are not on the agenda.  And won't be for as long as Palestinian militants continue firing rockets from Gaza and hold an Israeli soldier captive.

The Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat has said that today’s meeting was only the beginning. ‘I don't think that one meeting can solve all the problems’, he added.

The two leaders have spoken in a general terms about the future Palestinian state, what kind of relations it will have with Israel, about humanitarian issues and security concerns.

Both sides agreed the next meeting would be held in the West Bank in what would be their first get together in a Palestinian town. 

What is a possible breakthrough though is the Israeli government’s recent announcement that it may participate in working groups set up by the Arab League to advance the peace process. This would mark the first time Israel and an Arab League body have held diplomatic contacts.

While no formal invitation has been issued to Israel, the discussions would focus on the Saudi land for peace initiative endorsed by the Arab League last month in Riyadh.

In broad terms the plan offers Israel a normalization of relations with the Arab world in exchange for a withdrawal from Palestinian territories, the creation of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital, and the return of Palestinian refugees.

Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa and representatives of the 11 Arab member states will meet later this week to move the initiative forward.