Image: Ehud Olmert
Pool  /  Reuters
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert attends the weekly cabinet meeting in his office in Jerusalem on Sunday.
updated 9/10/2006 9:45:30 AM ET 2006-09-10T13:45:30

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is trying to arrange a meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to advance long-stalled peace efforts, a spokeswoman said Sunday.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who met Abbas in the West Bank town of Ramallah on Sunday, is involved in trying to arrange the meeting, spokeswoman Miri Eisin said. She said Olmert has set no conditions for the talks.

Eisin said the Palestinians have demanded the release of some of the thousands of Palestinians prisoners held by Israel. But the chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, denied that, saying Abbas had no conditions for talks.

“President Abbas stands fully ready to meet with Mr. Olmert. If the Israelis wish, we are ready to begin the preparations for this meeting immediately,” Erekat said.

Abbas aide Nabil Abu Rdeneh said contacts were under way to set up the meeting.

Olmert began making public overtures for talks last week after shelving his plan to carry out a large-scale, unilateral pullback from parts of the West Bank. He stated his willingness to meet with Abbas after meeting with Blair on Saturday.

Territorial concessions, such as Israel’s unilateral pullout from the Gaza Strip last summer, fell out of favor with many Israelis after the recent war against Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon.

Boycotting Hamas
Israel is pursuing talks with Abbas because it is boycotting the Palestinians’ Hamas-led Cabinet, which took power in March. Hamas doesn’t recognize Israel and has refused to renounce violence against it. Blair has refused to meet with members of the Hamas government, including with Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh.

Olmert and Abbas met in June at an informal gathering in Jordan, but didn’t talk privately. The two men pledged at the time to meet again within weeks, but those plans collapsed days later when Palestinian militants killed two soldiers and captured a third in a cross-border raid.

Abbas said Friday he would want a new round of talks to be “beneficial and fruitful.” Palestinian officials have said privately that Abbas wants the talks to yield concrete achievements for the Palestinians, such as a prisoner release.

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