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Israeli PM said to be in secret talks with PNA head - paper

RIA Novosti

08/05/2007 15:22

TEL AVIV, May 8 (RIA Novosti) - Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is conducting secret negotiations with PNA President Mahmoud Abbas and expects to achieve tangible progress in the summer, the Haaretz newspaper said Tuesday, citing unidentified sources.

It said, unlike the regular contacts, which are reduced primarily to humanitarian and security cooperation, the backstage dialogue is concerned with political issues, including prospects for the creation of an independent Palestinian state.

Local policy watchers attribute Israel's rising interest in the Mideast peace process to outside pressure, primarily from the United States, as well as the internal political problems that have dogged Olmert, who needs a constructive program of action to substantiate his claim on power in the future.

But both Israeli and Palestinian authorities denied reports about secret talks between Olmert and Abbas.

"This is groundless, no such talks are taking place," Israel media quoted an Abbas adviser as saying.

Olmert's press secretary also said she knew nothing about any secret negotiations between the two leaders.

A high ranking representative of the ruling coalition told a RIA Novosti correspondent that the prime minister's weakness and the opposition's growing popularity could become an insurmountable obstacle in implementing any new plans or ideas with respect to the Palestinian issue.

The Palestinian National Authority could collapse if the international community continues its boycott of the territory's government, Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh said last Friday.

"The danger of the PNA's demise is real if the international blockade goes on, and this, in turn, will cause an upheaval in the Palestinian-administered territories," Haniyeh told a regional newspaper in an interview.

The Palestinian National Authority was established in 1994 as a result of interim peace deals with Israel.

The United States and European countries cut off aid to the PNA in January 2006 following a landslide election victory by the radical Islamist movement Hamas, blacklisted by the West and Israel as a terrorist organization.

The Hamas-led government was this replaced last March by a government of national unity, established in association with the more moderate Fatah movement to stop the bitter infighting between the two major Palestinian parties.

PNA President Mahmoud Abbas, who leads Fatah, hoped the move would prompt the international community to lift sanctions, but they are still in place.

Western nations have repeatedly said they will only resume aid if the PNA government recognizes the Jewish State, renounces violence and reaffirms its commitment to earlier Palestinian-Israeli agreements - conditions Hamas leaders are reluctant to meet.

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