Olmert West Asia conference no threat to government

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PARIS, Oct 22 (Reuters) Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert insisted on Monday that his coalition government was not at risk of unravelling over a US-sponsored conference on Palestinian statehood.

Two right-wing ministers have threatened to quit the government if the conference, due to convene in the United States in late November or December, tackles the most sensitive issues, including control of Jerusalem and its holy sites.

''I don't see any political difficulty with this. I gather from my meetings with coalition partners that the coalition is cohesive and stable,'' Olmert told reporters after meeting French President Nicolas Sarkozy in Paris.

Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas have told negotiating teams to draft a joint document for the conference that addresses so-called final status issues, including borders and the fate of Jerusalem and millions of Palestinian refugees.

The document is meant to serve as a basis for the statehood talks that Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said should be concluded by August, before the US presidential race heats up.

Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister Avigdor Lieberman, the leading far-right member of Olmert's coalition, said he had told Washington the government could collapse if talks went too far.

Cabinet Minister Eli Yishai, who heads the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, said he had likewise cautioned US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice during her visit last week that the conference ''could shake up the government''.

Yakov Margi, a Shas leader in parliament, said Shas had ''reached its limit'' on Olmert's diplomatic moves.

The unwinding of Olmert's coalition could usher in an Israeli election and possibly paralyse peace moves for the rest of U.S.

President George W Bush's term.

Olmert has told Israel's attorney-general that he would follow past practice by bringing any legally-binding joint paper or agreement with the Palestinians to parliament for approval.

Doing so could add a layer of uncertainty to the already contentious negotiating process. But it is unclear if Olmert has committed to submitting to the Knesset the document being negotiated for the Annapolis conference, since he has said in the past that this document would not be legally binding.

''The aim of the Annapolis meeting is not to have a joint declaration with the Palestinians that will offer solutions (to final status issues),'' Olmert said on Monday in Paris.

Reuters AE DB2332

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