Abbas and Olmert to meet amid doubts of a deal

_45021305_7a2a49f6-cec4-475a-85ac-33fe96d5f06e2.jpgRAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday in a last-minute bid to clinch an agreement a day before his Kadima party holds an election to replace him.

“Olmert will make a last-ditch effort to reach a deal, but I doubt they can finalize anything in tonight’s meeting,” an Israeli political source said.

Senior Abbas aides said the Palestinians had rejected Israeli proposals to sign a “shelf” deal, which would not go into effect until Abbas regained control of the Hamas-run Gaza Strip.

Israeli-Palestinian peace talks were launched at an international conference in Annapolis, Maryland last November with the aim of concluding an agreement in 2008. The negotiations have shown few signs of progress.

Olmert appealed on Monday for a partial peace deal before he steps down, but Abbas wants a detailed accord that would settle sensitive issues such as the future of Jerusalem, Palestinian refugees, borders and Jewish settlements.

“We will not sign any deal before we are assured that it is comprehensive and doesn’t delay any of the core issues. It should be detailed,” said Yasser Abed Rabbo, a senior Abbas aide.

“We also want implementation mechanisms, and international guarantees for implementation, as well as international implementation monitoring,” Abed Rabbo said.

The two leaders planned to hold talks in Jerusalem at 9 p.m.

(1800 GMT).

CLOSING GAPS

Olmert, who faces possible indictment in a corruption scandal, has promised to resign after his Kadima party holds a leadership election on Wednesday.

But barring any decision to take a leave of absence, he could stay on as caretaker prime minister for weeks or months until a new government is formed.

Western diplomats and Palestinian officials said negotiators have come close to agreement on some issues such as borders but it was highly unlikely an accord could be clinched this year, before U.S. President George W. Bush leaves office.

Diplomatic sources and Palestinian officials said the sides had already started drafting a position paper that includes points of agreement and disagreement, but they were nowhere near a full deal.

Senior Abbas aides said he told U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in an hour-long telephone conversation three days ago that Washington should not blame either side if they failed to reach an agreement this year.

The Palestinians, the aides said, were seeking a document from Bush summarizing the talks and calling for negotiations to immediately resume under the next U.S. administration.

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