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Abbas, Olmert to Meet on International Peace Talks

Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas are scheduled to meet today in the West Bank city, Jericho. VOA's Jim Teeple reports it will be the first time an Israeli leader has traveled to the West Bank in more than six years.

Mr. Olmert and Mr. Abbas are to meet less than a week after both men held separate talks with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Secretary Rice traveled to the region to garner support for a Middle East peace conference to be held later this year, which she says should move both sides closer to achieving a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Israeli and Palestinian negotiators say the talks between Mr. Olmert and Mr. Abbas will likely focus on the agenda for the conference. Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, told the Voice of Palestine radio he wants the agenda to include substantive issues.

Erekat says the talks between Mr. Abbas and Mr. Olmert should include discussions on the future of Jerusalem, on permanent borders and the on dismantling of Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

Israeli officials say they want the meeting to focus on how to strengthen confidence-building measures taken since President Abbas dismissed the Hamas-led Palestinian unity government and formed a new, more moderate Palestinian government based in the West Bank.

"We have a situation where the money is flowing again - the aid for the Palestinian Authority -- the tax money as well. We have a situation where the political dialogue has been re-established and the situation with the security dialogue is back on track," said Mark Regev, a spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry. "Obviously, there are big issues still ahead of us; but, the idea is to take the current momentum and see if we can energize that process."

Neither Mr. Abbas, nor Mr. Olmert is in a position of strength, politically. Mr. Olmert heads a politically fractious coalition government with low poll ratings. Mr. Abbas' position as the leader of the Palestinians is complicated by the fact that the Palestinian territories have been divided ever since Hamas militants seized control of the Gaza Strip, in June.