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Palestinian President, Israeli Prime Minister to Meet


Palestinian and Israeli leaders are going to be meeting soon as part of a recent agreement to hold regular talks. VOA's Jim Teeple reports from Jerusalem.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas says he will meet next week with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Mr. Abbas made the announcement while on a visit Tuesday to the West Bank city of Bethlehem. Mr. Olmert's office had no comment on the matter.

Both men pledged to hold regular meetings during last month's trip to the Middle East by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who said the talks would focus on what she described as benchmarks for future progress such as stopping Palestinian rocket fire from the Gaza Strip and easing Israeli restrictions on Palestinians in the occupied West Bank.

Sociology professor Nader Said, of Bir Zeit University in the West Bank city of Ramallah, says Palestinians do not expect much from the talks because Mr. Abbas is perceived by many Palestinians as weak.

"Mr. Abbas has the will and the desire. He is a true peacemaker, he wants to see peace is achieved under his rule," said Said. "However, in the past few years the Palestinian Authority has been stripped of any real authority in the West Bank and Gaza, mostly in the West Bank where you can see no real achievements being made. People not only blame him for that, but they also blame the Israelis and the Americans who did not give him anything."

Ehud Olmert says he will talk with Mr. Abbas, but he will only discuss humanitarian issues, because the new Hamas-dominated Palestinian unity government has not moved to recognize Israel. Gidi Grinstein, who heads the Reut Institute that advises the Israeli government on strategic issues, says Israel also has problems with Mr. Abbas' Fatah movement.

"There is a political impasse where Hamas rejects any idea of a comprehensive agreement with Israel that brings an end of conflict or finality to claim," said Grinstein. "And Fatah rejects any interim agreement that establishes the Palestinian state with provisional borders."

Mr. Olmert also goes into next week's talks in a weak political position - heading an administration beset by political scandals.

Israeli police questioned Mr. Olmert for four hours Tuesday as part of an investigation into the activities of one of his close aides who has been implicated in a case involving senior tax officials who were allegedly bribed by businessmen seeking tax breaks. Police are also investigating Mr. Olmert's involvement in two other cases, focusing on his real estate transactions and his role in the privatization of an Israeli bank while he was finance minister in 2005.