JERUSALEM - Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert promised not to build any new Jewish settlements during a meeting with Palestinian National Authority (PNA) Chairman Mahmoud Abbas on Thursday, an Israeli official told Xinhua.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (L) and Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert shake hands during their meeting in Jerusalem Dec. 27, 2007. [Xinhua]
Olmert made the pledge during the meeting with Abbas at his residence in Jerusalem, first of its kind since the two were back from Annapolis peace conference held late November.
Olmert promised during the two-hour meeting that Israel would not build any new settlements and would stop expropriating land in the West Bank, said David Baker, an official with the Prime Minister's Office.
"This is a positive meeting. Both sides repeated their commitment to the Roadmap and make continued progress in the negotiations," he said.
The two leaders will keep on the mechanism of biweekly meeting.
According to local daily Ha'aretz, Olmert told Abbas that Israel "will take no steps that will hurt our ability to arrive at final status negotiations with the Palestinians."
He underlined that Israel wants to carry out the negotiations " in good faith," the report added.
However, Olmert did not guarantee Abbas that Israel would not expand settlement in Har Homa although the leaders agreed that the two sides would refrain from taking any steps that would hinder efforts to reach a permanent peace agreement.
"The prime minister has not promised to freeze tenders that have already been published and are already underway," a senior Israeli official was quoted by local daily Yedioth Ahronoth as saying.
The Palestinians are particularly upset over a tender by Israeli Ministry of Housing and Construction for the building project of 307 housing units in the southeast Jerusalem neighborhood of Har Homa, on the Palestinian side of the Green Line.
On Wednesday, Palestinian sources said Abbas had conditioned the advancement of the peace talks on the immediate halt of all settlement construction, adding that additional gestures are required by Israel in order to increase the Palestinian people's trust in their president.