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Washington conference to include declarations, but no negotiations

By Aluf Benn, Ha'aretz, 12.09.07

The United States will host a Middle East peace conference in Washington, D.C., in November, the week before Thanksgiving, to back its diplomatic efforts to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict based on a two-sate solution.
The meeting will seek to win support for arrangements being drafted by prime ministers Ehud Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas, but will not have any negotiating role.
The U.S. is delaying sending out invitations to the conference, which President George Bush announced in his July 16 speech on the Middle East, as its existence depends on the results of talks between Olmert and Abbas over the next few weeks.
Both Olmert and the Americans see Saudi Arabia's and the United Arab Emirates' participation at the conference as the primary goal. Jerusalem and Washington believe that if Saudi Arabia agrees to participate, all of the moderate Arab states will follow.
Over the past few weeks, Washington has been urging the Saudis to attend the conference, but has not received a definitive answer yet. The Saudis said they would decide whether to take part and at what level on the basis of the agreements reached between Olmert and Abbas.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who recently took over Israeli-Palestinian affairs, will chair the conference.
Rice and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni initiated the "political horizon" or "shelf agreement" - an agreement whose implementation will be put off until the PA is strong enough to carry out. Olmert agreed to the plan, which is intended to strengthen the Palestinian moderates headed by Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayad, only after Hamas' takeover of the Gaza Strip and the Fatah-Hamas PA unity government's breakup.
Washington officials have begun drafting the agenda for the conference, which is planned to last two days an d to center on a joint Olmert-Abbas statement.
The concluding joint statement is expected to again outline the principles for establishing a Palestinian state and suggestions for solving core issues such as defined borders, the Palestinian refugee problem and Jerusalem.
Olmert and Abbas said after their meeting on Monday that they would set up teams to draft the understandings for a two-state agreement.
Rice, who is scheduled to arrive in the region next week, has been urging Olmert to make progress in his talks with Abbas. Abbas has made it clear to the Americans that he would not come to the conference unless he reaches an agreement with Israel on the content of a joint statement.
The Americans are now leading a two-pronged effort to strengthen Abbas - the Washington conference is planned to present the "political horizon," while Quartet envoy Tony Blair and U.S. Security Coordinator Keith Dayton are working to rehabilitate and bolster the PA's security and civilian institutions in the West Bank.