Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is preparing to meet his Palestinian counterpart, Ahmed Qureia, next week to discuss ways to end violence and restart peace talks. Both sides are under strong pressure from the United States to resume the peace process now that the new Palestinian government is in place.
Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom confirmed Thursday that preparations are under way for the talks following the Palestinian parliament's approval of Mr. Qureia's new Cabinet.
Mr. Shalom told the Israeli Army Radio that he expected the meeting between Mr. Sharon and the Palestinian prime minister to be held within 10 days.
It will be the first such high-level talks between the two sides in months following the resignation of the previous Palestinian prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas.
Mr. Abbas quit his post in September after losing a power struggle with the Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, who insisted on retaining control over the security forces.
Mr. Arafat choose Mr. Qureia to replace him and the two are said to have a better working relationship.
At the same time, Mr. Qureia says he is under no illusions about how hard it will be to reform the Palestinian administration and reach a peace agreement with Israel.
"We are trying to do the best we can do in favor of our people in this very difficult time," he said.
Israel says that Mr. Qureia's government will be judged by how well it succeeds in halting Palestinian terrorism.
Raanan Gissin, a spokesman for Mr. Sharon, says success in stopping violence can pave the way for implementation of the international road map to peace plan.
"Any Palestinian government - and we do not get involved in its composition - must pass the test of performance, and the test of performance means that they will rein in terrorism," said Mr. Gissin. "Bring about a cessation of violence, terrorism and incitement, then we can move very quickly forward to the next stage of the road map to peace!"
Mr. Gissin says that the two sides are in contact but no date has yet been set for a summit between the two Prime Ministers.
The Palestinian Minister for Negotiations, Saeb Erekat, says the Palestinian side is eager to resume dialogue.