Vol. 5 Num 1022 Tue. April 17, 2007  

Israel, Palestinians report progress

The Israeli and Palestinian leaders on Sunday discussed the outlines of Palestinian statehood for the first time in six years, taking a modest step toward breaking the long paralysis in peacemaking.

In the first in a series of biweekly talks, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas focused mostly on day-to-day issues such as travel and trade restrictions, but also raised broader issues that have not been discussed by the two top officials since the collapse of peace talks in 2001.

Representatives of the two sides said Olmert and Abbas discussed the structure of the government of a future Palestinian state and economic cooperation, among other topics.

"It was a good beginning," Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said of the meeting, which lasted more than two hours. Olmert and Abbas smiled and looked comfortable as they walked into Olmert's official residence in central Jerusalem.

Israeli government spokeswoman Miri Eisin called the talks "very positive," adding the two leaders broke away from their aides and spoke one-on-one for more than an hour.

Olmert and Abbas plan to next talk in the West Bank town of Jericho, the first meeting of the two leaders in a Palestinian town.

Israeli officials emphasized that the two sides did not go into the key elements of a final peace deal, such as borders of a Palestinian state, the future of Jerusalem or the fate of Palestinian refugees.

"We're not going to be talking about the core issues of the final status at this stage, certainly not with the issue of terrorism not being addressed adequately yet," Eisin said.