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Israeli, Palestinian Leaders to Meet Sunday


Israeli and Palestinian leaders will discuss the creation of a Palestinian state at a summit on Sunday. As Robert Berger reports from VOA's Jerusalem bureau, it is the first time that Israel has been willing to discuss the issue since the Islamic militant group Hamas won Palestinian elections over a year ago.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will discuss aspects of Palestinian statehood with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas when they meet on Sunday. Mr. Olmert's spokeswoman Miri Eisin says Israel is prepared to discuss the legal, economic and governmental structures of a future Palestinian state.

"The prime minister is open about it, and that in itself is substantial and important," she said.

Eisin says Israel's policy is to create a "political horizon" for Palestinian moderates like Mr. Abbas.

"We want to go forward with those who say they want a Palestinian state alongside Israel and they want to achieve that through moderation, through dialogue, and not through violence," she said.

Israel wants to strengthen President Abbas while weakening Hamas, a militant Islamic group that refuses to recognize the Jewish state or to renounce violence. Hamas is the senior partner in a coalition government with Mr. Abbas, and that has complicated peace efforts. With Hamas in power, Israel says it will not discuss core issues of Palestinian statehood, namely refugees, Jerusalem and final borders.

But former Palestinian legislator Sabri Saddam says the sooner the sides get down to final status talks the better.

"What we're looking for is a final, just and fair peace to all parties," Saddam said.

The summit is part of a deal brokered by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice during a visit here last month. The two leaders will meet every two weeks to try to get the peace process back on track.