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Israeli and Palestinian Leaders to Meet on Wednesday


Israeli and Palestinian leaders will hold another summit meeting on Wednesday in a bid to advance the peace process. But despite some signs of progress, serious differences remain. Robert Berger reports from the VOA bureau in Jerusalem.

The summit will be the sixth in recent months between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. They are trying to hammer out a document on Palestinian statehood to be presented at an international peace conference in the United States planned for November.

Israeli analyst Jonathan Spyer says both leaders are trying to please Washington.

"Everybody wants to give the impression of progress, so everybody is going to turn up, everyone is going to say things which sound conciliatory, everyone is going to try and not be the one who spoils things," Spyer said.

In a goodwill gesture to Mr. Abbas for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, Israel plans to release 87 Palestinian prisoners on Monday.

Nevertheless, the Israeli and Palestinian leaders have drastically differing visions for the document on Palestinian statehood. Mr. Olmert wants a vague statement, while Mr. Abbas wants to tackle core issues of the Mideast conflict, such as the status of Jerusalem, Palestinian refugees and final borders.

"So once you look beyond the spin, and beyond the small gestures, the very wide gaps are still very apparent," Spyer said.

Israel is reluctant to offer major territorial concessions to President Abbas, after his Fatah forces were routed by the Islamic militant group Hamas in a civil war in the Gaza Strip three months ago. But Mr. Abbas, who heads a government in the West Bank, says he needs a concrete achievement from the international conference to win the support of his people. He believes an Israeli commitment on Palestinian statehood would strengthen the forces of moderation and weaken Hamas.

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