RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will meet Palestinian and Israeli negotiators in Berlin on Tuesday to try to move peace talks forward, Palestinian and Israeli officials said on Monday.
Senior Palestinian negotiators said Rice proposed holding a trilateral meeting in Europe during her visit to Israel and the Palestinian areas 10 days ago to help bridge gaps between the sides and try to reach agreement by the end of this year.
The talks will be held on the sidelines of a donors’ conference in Berlin, where delegates from around 50 countries are to discuss funding for projects to strengthen Palestinian police and legal institutions.
“The trilateral meeting will focus on reviewing the negotiations, and will be followed by a bilateral meeting with the Israelis,” senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat told Reuters before leaving for Germany.
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Arye Mekel said such trilateral talks have been held before and were not a replacement for bilateral negotiations with the Palestinians.
“This is not the first time. It’s more routine,” Mekel said.
U.S. President George Bush launched the final-status negotiations seven months ago with the aim of reaching a framework deal on the nature of a future Palestinian state before he steps down in January.
Disputes over Jewish settlements, a corruption scandal that could topple Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and violence along the Israel-Gaza border have hurt U.S. efforts to achieve a deal.
Rice has said that settlement building was harming peace negotiations and had called on Israel and the Palestinians to work harder to close a deal.
Palestinian and Israeli officials said Rice had suggested deepening her own involvement in the talks to try to push the two sides closer to a deal by holding more trilateral meetings.
Palestinian officials said they had agreed to the idea but Israeli officials said they preferred holding their own bilateral talks with the Palestinians.
Editing by Keith Weir