CAIRO: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said on Sunday that a meeting with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert would set the stage for final status talks in the long-stagnant Middle East peace process.
The three-way meeting with Rice and Olmert on Feb. 19 will pave the way for the start of the final peace process, Abbas said in Cairo after meeting President Hosni Mubarak.
We had previously agreed with Rice that we must head towards a final settlement and begin negotiations over the issues of borders, settlements, refugees and the state, he told reporters.
We will lay out a timeframe for implementation at the beginning of the negotiations.
Abbas also said Rice would on Feb. 21 meet the so-called Arab quartet – grouping Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates – which play a crucial role in the peace process.
Abbas was in Cairo to brief the President on the results of the agreement between his Fatah party and the rival Hamas movement to form a national unity government to end a power struggle that has left scores dead in recent months.
He said he will formally appoint current premier Ismail Haniya of Hamas as prime minister of the new government on Thursday.
According to the constitution Haniya will resign and I will immediately and formally appoint him on Feb. 15, Abbas said.
Western donors have frozen aid to the Palestinian government since Hamas, which they regard as a terrorist outfit, took office after a shock election win in January 2006.
The Middle East quartet – the United States, European Union, United Nations and Russia – has insisted the government meet three conditions before it will lift the boycott: recognize Israel s right to exist, renounce violence and respect past peace accords.
Abbas called on all members of the new cabinet to respect the text and spirit of the agreement.
The new Palestinian government is required to respect the commissioning letter in text and spirit, Abbas said.
Those who are not part of the government can say whatever they like but those who are part of the government must respect the commissioning letter, he said.
On Friday, a Hamas spokesman reiterated the movement s refusal to recognize the Jewish state.
The unity government accord signed in Mecca on Thursday makes no explicit reference to Israel or to respecting interim peace deals signed by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).
Instead, in a letter formally tasking Haniya with forming the new cabinet, Abbas calls on him to respect agreements signed by the PLO, which Hamas has never joined.