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Olmert likely to meet Abbas, Israeli officials say

Written by: Staff

JERUSALEM, May 2 (Reuters) Acting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is likely to meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas after seeking U.S. support for his plan for the occupied West Bank, vice premier-designate Shimon Peres said today.

Olmert, whose new government is slated to be sworn in on Thursday, has pledged to impose Israel's borders by 2010 with or without Palestinian agreement.

His ''convergence plan'' includes evacuating isolated Jewish settlements while beefing up major blocs, moves Olmert said he would make unilaterally in the absence of peacemaking with the Palestinians, whose government is now run by the militant Hamas group.

''I think that Olmert will meet with (Abbas) after the establishment of the government -- I think maybe after his visit to the United States -- because we said that we are going to try for a while to reach a bilateral agreement,'' Peres told The Jerusalem Post.

Israeli government sources have said Olmert will meet U.S.

President George W. Bush at the White House around May 23 and provide the outlines for his West Bank plan.

Olmert has called Abbas a failed leader, and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni dismissed him as irrelevant because the Palestinian Authority is now controlled by Hamas, which advocates Israel's destruction.

''We say, sure, we'll talk to (Abbas), but to what avail,'' said a senior official in Olmert's centrist Kadima party. ''We can talk to Abbas, but he can't do anything.'' Olmert spokesman Assaf Shariv said: ''A meeting between the two leaders is not on our agenda right now.'' Palestinians have said Olmert's West Bank plan would not foster peace and also annex land they want for a state of their own.

EXPECTATIONS Haim Ramon, a top official in Olmert's centrist Kadima party, told Israel Radio that he believed the two leaders should meet, though it was unclear when.

''It needs to be held. It must be held,'' Ramon said. ''We need to relay to (Abbas) what we expect from him.'' A senior Israeli official said Olmert intended to hold talks with Abbas but that ''the meeting has to have substance and have the backing of the U.S.'' Abbas's peacemaking policies were rejected by Hamas after it won elections in January.

Abbas has said he is ready to resume negotiations with Israel immediately and that he proposed opening ''a back channel of talks'' to U.S. officials and Peres, a former prime minister who has spearheaded peace efforts in the past.

Hamas's shock election victory appeared to torpedo any hopes of resuming negotiations to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The United States and the European Union have told Hamas it must recognise Israel, renounce violence and accept interim peace accords. Israel has said it would have no dealings with Hamas until the group accepted those demands.

Hamas says talks with Israel would be a waste of time. The group has carried out nearly 60 suicide bombings against Israelis since a Palestinian uprising began in 2000, but has largely abided by a year-old ceasefire.


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