Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Tuesday night met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in efforts to push forward the peace process between the two neighbors.
The meeting, held at Olmert's official residence in Jerusalem, was the third gathering of the two leaders since the embattled Israeli prime minister announced on July 30 that he would not contend in the upcoming primary of his ruling Kadima party and would resign upon the election of his successor.
Following the tete-a-tete, held just hours before the Kadima elections on Wednesday, Olmert's spokesman Mark Regev said that the two men discussed the main issues dividing the two sides, and agreed to meet again after Abbas returns from a trip to the United States later this month.
During his stay, Abbas is expected to represent the Palestinians at the UN General Assembly and meet with U.S. President George W. Bush.
Details of the latest summit were not released. Yet Palestiniansources said earlier that Abbas and Olmert were expected to discuss settlements, borders, Jerusalem and other core issues.
Earlier Tuesday, senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat saidon Palestinian radio that Abbas, who has repeatedly expressed skepticism about the Annapolis goal, would stress to Olmert that he would not accept any interim or partial agreement, as an apparent response to Olmert's proposal to solve the Jerusalem question years later.
Israeli officials said that Olmert would also refer to Abbas a plan to compensate Jewish settlers for moving away from parts of the West Bank. Israeli TV Channel 2 reported Sunday that Olmert has proposed to transfer 98.1 percent of land in the West Bank to the Palestinians.
Little visible progress has been achieved since Olmert and Abbas pledged at a U.S.-hosted peace conference in Annapolis last November to reach a comprehensive peace deal within 2008, leading to lowering expectations for the two sides to achieve the ambitious goal.
However, Olmert remains upbeat for a deal by the end of the year, repeatedly saying that significant progress has been achieved. He also told a parliamentary committee on Monday that "every day that passes by without reaching an agreement with the Palestinians is a day we will regret."
The already sluggish process was further overshadowed by the political turmoil in Israel. Olmert will become caretaker prime minister following his resignation, yet he will remain in power until a new government is formed, which would take from weeks to months.
Erekat added that the Palestinians would work with Olmert for as long as he continues to serve, and Abbas has said that he would cooperate with whoever succeeds Olmert to continue the peace efforts.
Yet it is uncertain that how the peace process would be conducted after the Kadima race. The leading candidate, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who has been leading Israel's negotiating team, has said that she would push forward the talks on the basis of the current format, while her main rival, Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz is slated to take a relatively hard-line position.
Meanwhile, both have expressed their displeasure with the seemingly hasty moves by Olmert to secure a so-called "shelf agreement" with the Palestinian side by the end of the year.