updated 9/19/2006 6:27:36 AM ET 2006-09-19T10:27:36

Israel wants to reopen a serious dialogue with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and work with him to establish a Palestinian state, Israel’s foreign minister said Tuesday.

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni spoke after a meeting Monday with Abbas in New York that both sides described as positive. It was the first working meeting between leading Israeli and Palestinian officials in four months.

“I don’t see this as one meeting and each side checks off a box and goes home,” Livni told Israel’s Army Radio about her talks with Abbas. “The idea is to establish a permanent channel of dialogue.”

“We have a goal ... of achieving a two-state solution,” she said.

Israel’s contacts with the Palestinians have been largely frozen since the militant Hamas group, sworn to Israel’s destruction, won Palestinian parliamentary elections in January. It considers Abbas, a moderate from the Fatah Party elected separately in 2005, an acceptable negotiating conduit.

Abbas urges Hamas to join coalition government
The Livni-Abbas talks on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly came as Abbas was trying to get the Hamas government to moderate its anti-Israel policies and join with Fatah in a coalition government. Abbas hopes that would pave the way to renew hundreds of millions of dollars in international funding cut off after Hamas took power.

“It was a very, very positive meeting with Mrs. Livni. We talked (about) everything,” Abbas told reporters after the talks at the United Nations.

Abbas and Livni discussed reopening the dialogue between Israeli and Palestinian officials, including a meeting between Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, as soon as possible, Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said.

Abbas agreed to an unconditional meeting with Olmert that would be part of a series of meetings between Palestinian and Israeli officials, he said.

Olmert, who was elected last spring, and Abbas were on the verge of holding their first working meeting in June when Hamas-affiliated militants captured an Israeli soldier, derailing all efforts at talks.

Abbas promised Livni to “exert maximum effort” to secure the soldier’s release, Erekat said.

Livni said she told Abbas that Israel stood firm by its refusal to deal with Hamas until it renounces violence, recognizes signed peace agreements and recognizes Israel. Abbas has thus far been unable to persuade Hamas to accept the Israeli demands, something that could compromise the establishment of a coalition government.

Yielding to growing domestic pressure, Hamas agreed last week to form a coalition with Fatah in hopes of lifting the economic boycott, which has made it impossible for the government to pay its employees. But the U.S. and EU want clearer statements on the new government’s commitment to peace efforts.

'Road map is still on the table'
Although Israel has postponed its plan to withdraw from large areas of the West Bank, the government is interested in advancing in the U.S.-backed “road map” peace plan that outlines the formation of a Palestinian state, Livni said.

“The road map is still on the table,” she said.

The road map aimed to establish a Palestinian state by 2005, but Israel and the Palestinians have failed to carry out their obligations and it has languished.

Public support in Israel for the West Bank pullback fell considerably after the militants allied with Hamas tunneled from the Gaza Strip into Israel to kidnap the soldier at an army post. The attack, which came after Israel withdrew last year from the Gaza Strip, sparked a large military offensive in the Palestinian area in which more than 200 Palestinians have been killed.

Israelis have also been skeptical of any serious moves toward reconciliation with Arabs since a 34-day war in Lebanon against Hezbollah guerrillas who carried out a cross-border attack in mid-July, killing three Israeli soldiers and capturing two.

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