RAMALLAH, West Bank – Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas says nothing has been achieved in six months of peace talks with Israel and he fears a corruption probe of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will bog things down.
While Abbas' pessimism regarding the U.S.-backed talks was not new, these statements to leaders of his Fatah movement Saturday night underlined the sense among both peoples that an agreement will not obtainable by an end-2008 target.
"Nothing has been achieved in the negotiations with Israel yet," Abbas said. His comments at a meeting of the Fatah Revolutionary Council were published Sunday in the Fatah-associated al-Ayyam daily and confirmed by meeting participants.
The United States has been pushing for a final agreement before the end of President George W. Bush's term in January. Both sides have kept largely quiet about the talks, but neither has hinted at any serious progress and the situation remains unchanged on the ground: Israel continues to build in areas the Palestinians claim for a future state, and hasn't scaled back a network of roadblocks that it says are essential to its security but have hurt Palestinian economic recovery.
Israel, meanwhile, accuses Abbas' West Bank government of not doing enough to clamp down on militants and has made it clear it won't carry out any accord as long as Islamic Hamas militants rule the Gaza Strip.
Allegations of criminal wrongdoing on Olmert's part and November elections in the U.S. are only diverting attention from peacemaking, Abbas told Fatah leaders.
"I fear the probe against Olmert and the American preoccupation with the elections will negatively affect the negotiations," Abbas said, according to a member of the council, Salah Tamari.
Olmert has said he would resign if indicted in the case. He is suspected of illicitly accepting up to $500,000 in cash from an American Jewish businessman, but the investigation is at an early stage and could take months to complete before the Justice Ministry decides whether to file charges.
Talks resumed in November at a U.S.-hosted conference after a seven-year breakdown. They are meant to bring an end to the decades-old conflict between the peoples and clear the way for the establishment of a Palestinian state.
Chief Palestinian negotiator Ahmed Qureia said the Palestinians will not accept a partial deal. Speaking at the same Fatah gathering Saturday, Qureia rejected Olmert's suggestion that the sides only outline an accord, without fleshing out the details that have tormented peacemaking for years.
While negotiating with the moderate Abbas, Israel has been fighting militants in Hamas-run Gaza who attack Israeli border communities with rockets and mortars.
Egypt has been trying for months to mediate a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas. On Sunday, senior Israeli defense official Amos Gilad traveled to Cairo to hear from the Egyptians the latest Hamas response to Israel's truce conditions, Israeli defense officials said on condition of anonymity.
Israel has demanded that any truce deal involve progress in negotiations for the release of a captured Israeli soldier held in Gaza nearly two years. But the defense officials said they were skeptical Hamas would agree to such a condition.
They spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the talks.
Israel, meanwhile, is unlikely to end its blockade of Gaza, a chief condition Hamas has set for a truce.
Fighting persisted Sunday, with at least two rockets fired from the Gaza Strip but no injuries reported, the army said. Israeli forces backed by tanks briefly raided southern Gaza, razing land and making arrests in the city of Rafah, Hamas and witnesses said.
Olmert told ministers at a Cabinet meeting Sunday that the situation in Israel's south has become "unbearable." He said last week that Israel would soon reach a "decisive crossroads" regarding Gaza, suggesting an escalated Israeli response to militants' rocket attacks. Israeli retaliation has included airstrikes and land raids targeting rocket-launching squads.
Any large Israeli operation in Gaza would put pressure on Abbas to call off peace talks.