PARIS (Reuters) - Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said on Sunday a U.S.-led conference on Palestinian statehood would not yield a peace breakthrough, a statement that appeared aimed at heading off a revolt by rightist coalition partners.
Two members of Olmert’s coalition have threatened to quit the government if the gathering, expected to convene in late November or early December, tackles the most sensitive issues, including control of Jerusalem and its holy sites.
“The conference is not supposed to provide solutions. It can serve as a foundation for negotiations that would lead to a two-state solution,” Olmert told reporters who accompanied him to France, where he meets President Nicolas Sarkozy on Monday.
On Tuesday, he will hold talks with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown in London before returning to Jerusalem.
Olmert said Iran’s nuclear program and his peace moves with the Palestinians would top the agenda of his first meetings with the two leaders since they took office.
Israeli allegations about a suspected Palestinian plot against Olmert’s life earlier this year cast a further shadow over preparations for the conference the United States plans to host in Annapolis, Maryland.
Olmert expressed “great displeasure” but said the suspected plot would not derail further talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Israel’s public security minister, Avi Dichter, said Olmert’s life was not seriously threatened.
Before leaving for Paris, Olmert said the Annapolis conference was “not meant to be an event on its own or an event for an agreement or a historic breakthrough”.
Olmert and Abbas have instructed their 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 paper is meant to serve as the basis for the statehood talks that Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said should be concluded by August, 2008.
Strategic Affairs Minister Avigdor Lieberman, the leading far-right member of Olmert’s coalition, said he warned Washington the government could collapse if talks went too far.
Cabinet Minister Eli Yishai, who heads the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, said he likewise cautioned Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice during her visit last week that the conference “could shake up the government”.
The collapse of Olmert’s coalition could usher in new Israeli elections and possibly paralyze peace moves for the rest of President George W. Bush’s term.
Israel’s internal security chief told the cabinet on Sunday of a plot to attack Olmert’s convoy en route to a meeting with Abbas in the West Bank town of Jericho, which was delayed and eventually took place in August.
Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad said the suspects were taken into custody in June and freed after three months because Palestinian authorities concluded there was no imminent danger. After Israel protested, the men were detained again, a Palestinian security source said.
Additional reporting by Adam Entous and Ori Lewis in Jerusalem and Wafa Amr in Ramallah