Palestinians see rifts with Israel on peace draft
(Adds Olmert office statement on bank sale probe)
By Wafa Amr
RAMALLAH, West Bank, Oct 7 (Reuters) - Israeli and Palestinian negotiators are deeply divided over the content of a joint document they are drafting for next month's U.S.-sponsored statehood conference, Palestinian officials said on Sunday.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, both weakened by internal crises, have avoided formal discussion of agenda issues in a series of pre-conference summits. They appointed top aides to find common ground instead. The teams, which were introduced last week, are expected to begin negotiations on Monday but their opening positions diverge dramatically, reflecting disputes between Olmert and Abbas on how to revive moribund peace talks, Palestinian officials said.
"We can say, ahead of the real discussions beginning between the negotiators, that there is no agreement on any issue yet," chief Palestinian negotiator Ahmed Qurie told Reuters.
A senior Abbas adviser involved in the talks said that the Palestinian president and Olmert "each gave his team different instructions about what type of document to work on".
The Palestinians want the joint document to address future borders and the fate of millions of their refugees and of Jerusalem -- "final-status" issues that Israel has long evaded, demanding the Palestinians first provide security guarantees.
But the sides have agreed that formal talks on Palestinian statehood will not begin until after the conference, which is expected in mid to late November in the Washington area. Until then, Israel wants to avoid a detailed discussion. "The joint statement will address core issues. In a general way, it will show the points of accord that we hope will be the basis of negotiations in the future," Olmert spokeswoman Miri Eisin said.
Briefing his cabinet ahead of its weekly meeting on Sunday, Olmert described unspecified "diplomatic moves" with the Palestinians as "inevitable" and said he would work towards achieving Israeli consensus for their implementation.
Olmert further invoked the "road map", a U.S.-backed peace plan from 2003 that conditioned the creation of a Palestinian state on a series of mutual confidence-building measures including a Palestinian crackdown on armed anti-Israel factions.
"Anything to do with implementing a (two-state) solution is predicated on making good on the road map, not just in terms of content but also of sequence," Olmert said in broadcast remarks.
Neither side met its road map requirements, and Abbas has been weakened by Hamas's takeover of the Gaza Strip in June. Hamas has called on Arab countries to boycott the conference.
Olmert saw his popularity sapped by last year's Lebanon war and would face opposition from rightist coalition partners to any handover of occupied West Bank land to the Palestinians.
He is also embroiled in a series of corruption scandals. Israeli police will question him on Tuesday and possibly on Thursday over the sale of a state-owned bank two years ago.
A statement issued by Olmert's office said he was confident that the investigation would "make clear that all the decisions he took in connection with the privatisation process of Bank Leumi were appropriate ... and that no fault would be found in (Olmert's) actions."
A Palestinian official said that the Israeli negotiating team wants the joint document to focus on the "nature" of the future Palestinian state, including that it be secular and have a stable economy, rather than on commitments required of Israel.
Middle East envoy Tony Blair, tasked with helping the Palestinians on economic and security issues, returns to the region on Monday for a five-day visit, his office said.
(Additional reporting by Adam Entous and Ori Lewis in Jerusalem)
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