'Considerable progress in peace talks'
AP and JPost.com Staff , THE JERUSALEM POST
May. 5, 2008

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Monday expressed readiness to make "tangible" changes in the West Bank, telling Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud that he understands that their months of peace talks must be accompanied by action on the ground, an Israeli official said.

Olmert and Abbas greeted each other warmly at the start of the two-hour meeting, held at Olmert's official residence in Jerusalem. The men embraced, Abbas signed the guest book, and Olmert bantered with Abbas' aides about European soccer teams before the beginning of the meeting at Olmert's Jerusalem residence.

Despite the appearance of a friendly atmosphere, Abbas' aides said Monday that the Palestinian leader is considering resigning if sufficient progress isn't made in the coming months.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said Abbas pressed Olmert on the settlement issue during Monday's meeting.

After the meeting, an unnamed Jerusalem official reported that there had been "considerable progress on Israel and the Palestinian Authority's final borders and on security issues."

Abbas has sounded increasingly disheartened in recent weeks.

Talks have made no visible progress since their launch at the US-sponsored Annapolis peace conference last November. However, officials from both sides have acknowledged that they are discussing the key issues in their six-decade conflict: final borders between Israel and a future Palestine, the fate of millions of Palestinian refugees and the status of the disputed holy city of Jerusalem.

During her visit, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice insisted the year-end target is still realistic, and government spokesman Mark Regev said the same after Monday's meeting.

"I believe there is a very good chance these talks will produce concrete results for the benefit of both people. We believe the time table set out in Annapolis is achievable," said Regev.

"We also discussed the tangible issues on the ground. We understand fully that political dialogue must be supported by tangible steps on the ground or you can have cynicism on the ground," he added.

During Rice's visit, she met with the chief Israeli and Palestinian negotiators, and the teams also held separate talks. In a sign of progress, Palestinian negotiators on Sunday for the first time presented maps outlining what they envision as the borders of a future state, an official said.

He said the Palestinians want all of the West Bank as part of their state, but are ready to give up nearly 2 percent of the territory in exchange for an equal amount of land from what is now Israel.

Israel wants to keep parts of the West Bank in order to retain large Jewish settlements and for what it says are security needs. Maps presented by Israel several weeks ago sought to keep about 10 percent of the West Bank, the Palestinian official said. He said that despite the gaps, the maps indicated the sides are moving closer to a compromise on the issue of final borders. He spoke on condition of anonymity as the talks were closed.

Abbas' aides said the Palestinian president is giving the negotiations two or three months to produce progress and will consider resigning if he believes the talks have failed. They spoke on condition of anonymity because Abbas has not yet made a final decision.


Original article: Jerusalem Post
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