Palestinian leader to meet Olmert Friday

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will meet on Friday in an effort to bridge gaps over a joint statement being crafted for a US meeting, an official said.The two leaders will meet one-on-one at Olmert’s residence in Jerusalem for the second time this month, the Israeli government official told AFP. The Israeli and Palestinian negotiating teams appointed by Olmert and Abbas met again on Wednesday to continue hammering out an agreement over the joint statement outlining a solution to the Middle East conflict.

Both sides want to present the statement at an international gathering planned in Annapolis, Maryland, later this year and seen as a stepping stone to direct negotiations on a permanent peace deal.

The two sides have agreed that the document will tackle core issues including borders, refugees and the status of Jerusalem. But while the Palestinians want a detailed agreement and timeframe for implementing solutions to the core issues, Israel seeks a looser document.

On Thursday, Olmert played down expectations for an upcoming US-sponsored peace summit, saying the gathering would not produce a binding peace agreement with the Palestinians and might not even take place.

The upcoming US-hosted peace conference is meant to give an international boost of support for Abbas and restart peace talks.

Speaking to a group of Jewish fundraisers, Olmert said he is committed to making the conference a success and said he would meet Abbas on Friday to review preparations.

“If all goes well, hopefully, we will meet in Annapolis,” he said. “[But] Annapolis is not made to be the event for the declaration of peace.”

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