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Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Abbas: Olmert initiative is 'positive' step toward peace-making

Last update - 17:47 28/11/2006

Abbas: Olmert initiative is 'positive' step toward peace-making

By Aluf Benn, Haaretz Correspondent, Haaretz Service and AP

Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas said Tuesday that a peace
initiative laid out the day before by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was a
"positive" step toward peacemaking.

Olmert told the Palestinians on Monday that he was prepared to grant them a
state, release desperately needed funds and free prisoners if they choose the
path of peace. He also said that Israel would pull out of West Bank land and
uproot settlements under a peace deal with the Palestinians.

"We look at it positively, especially that Mr. Olmert clearly referred to the
Arab peace plan, which we consider as one the most significant bases for a
solution to the Palestinian issue presented by the Arabs," Abbas said
following talks with Jordan's King Abdullah II in the Jordanian capital.

Abbas was referring to an Arab peace plan, which stipulates Arab recognition
of Israel in exchange for Israeli withdrawal from lands its seized since the
1967 Six-Day War.

Abbas said if Olmert's "intentions are good, then we can build on this [his
initiative] in order to put forward a plan for future negotiations on all
issues related to the Palestinian cause."

The Palestinian leader dodged a clear answer on Israeli conditions for
returning to the negotiating table, which include the release of Israel
Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit, held hostage by Hamas-linked militants
since June.

"They [the Israelis] say we want this and that, it's important, but the
content of the initiative is positive and we will respond to it positively in
an official statement," he said.

Abbas said that his meeting with Abdullah focused on coordinating positions on
all "the details that will be raised with President Bush and the American

He said that he will meet with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in the
West Bank "later" this week, but did not say when.

Rice is expected to meet with Olmert in Jerusalem on Thursday as part of her
scheduled trip to the region.

Rice will be arriving in the area on Wednesday with U.S. President George W.
Bush, and is slated to meet with King Abdullah of Jordan later that day.

Rice's visit has raised hopes of a regional summit, but diplomatic sources
said on Monday that they are not aware of any proposed summit that would bring
together regional heads of state.

Rice was not planning on visiting Israel during the trip, but due to the
atmosphere created by the Palestinian cease-fire and Olmert's Sde Boker
speech, she has decided to visit Israel in order to take advantage of the
diplomatic opportunities created.

U.S. diplomatic envoy Elliot Abrams is to meet with Olmert on Tuesday
afternoon to plan the meeting.

Sources stated that although Bush does have an interest in holding such a
conference, he is coming to the region because of issues dealing with Iraq.

Rice and Bush are to take part in a conference on democracy and development
called by King Abdullah, and to meet with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

Olmert recently expressed an intention to meet with Abbas, but added that he
doesn't plan on releasing Palestinian prisoners without first securing
Shalit's release.

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