- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 15, 2007

JERUSALEM — Israeli and Palestinian leaders yesterday discussed the outlines of Palestinian statehood for the first time in six years, taking a modest step toward breaking the long paralysis in peacemaking.

In the first in a series of biweekly talks, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas focused mostly on day-to-day issues such as travel and trade restrictions, but also raised broader issues that have not been discussed by the two top officials since the collapse of peace talks in 2001.

Representatives of the two sides said Mr. Olmert and Mr. Abbas discussed the structure of the government of a future Palestinian state and economic cooperation, among other topics.

“It was a good beginning,” Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said of the meeting, which lasted more than two hours. Mr. Olmert and Mr. Abbas smiled and looked comfortable as they walked into Mr. Olmert’s official residence in central Jerusalem.

Israeli government spokeswoman Miri Eisin called the talks “very positive,” adding that the two leaders broke away from their aides and spoke one-on-one for more than an hour.

Mr. Olmert and Mr. Abbas plan to next talk in the West Bank town of Jericho, the first meeting of the two leaders in a Palestinian town.

Israeli officials emphasized that the two sides did not go into the key elements of a final peace deal, such as borders of a Palestinian state, the future of Jerusalem or the fate of Palestinian refugees.

“We’re not going to be talking about the core issues of the final status at this stage, certainly not with the issue of terrorism not being addressed adequately yet,” Miss Eisin said.

Mr. Abbas has been eager to restart peace talks. Israel says it won’t address these issues as long as the Palestinian unity government, made up of the Islamic militant group Hamas and Mr. Abbas’ Fatah, fails to meet the international conditions for acceptance, including recognition of Israel’s right to exist.

Mr. Olmert also has said detailed peace talks cannot take place as long as Palestinian militants continue firing rockets from Gaza and hold Cpl. Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier captured by Hamas-linked militants in June.

Still, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has urged the sides to move beyond the day-to-day issues and begin discussions on the “political horizon,” referring to their ideas about a final peace settlement creating a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

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