Core issues

 

Before the discussions, Olmert had also said that the talks were aimed at restarting negotiations on establishing a Palestinian state.

 

However, exposing the differences between the two camps, Erekat said: "Personally, I think the negotiations have been totally exhausted... Now the leaders should decide.

 

"We have no need to reinvent the wheel. Any peace process should aim at ending the Israeli occupation that started in 1967."

 

Palestinian officials have been pushing for a deal on the "core issues" ahead of the autumn peace conference, with a view to implementing the agreement during the meeting.

 

However, Israeli officials have been reluctant to discuss key points before the conference, saying the two sides should create a basis or framework for an agreement before the meeting.

 

Erekat said that the two leaders had agreed to meet at least three more times before the peace conference, which Israeli officials expect to take place in November after the Jewish and Muslim holidays.

 

Prolonged resistance

Israeli officials had baulked at describing the session as an attempt to address so-called final-status issues such as borders and the future of Jerusalem and Palestinian refugees, saying the two leaders would seek instead an agreement on "principles".

 "I came here in order to discuss with you the fundamental issues outstanding between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, hoping that this will lead us soon into negotiations about the creation of a Palestinian state," Olmert said, with Abbas standing at his side, at the start of their talks.

 But it is unclear whether Olmert, whose popularity plummeted after last year's inconclusive war in Lebanon, can make major concessions, particularly to uproot Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank.

It is also uncertain how Abbas can deliver on any deal with the Hamas movement, which is in control of Gaza and whose charter calls for Israel's destruction.

   

Ismail Haniya, the ousted Hamas prime minister, called the Jericho meeting a public relations gimmick that would yield nothing for the Palestinians.

 

"It is clear that the meetings between Palestinian and Israeli officials are a replay of what happened in the past - it's reproducing a long path that led the Palestinian people to nowhere," he said.

 

The last round of final-status talks broke down six years ago.

   

Israeli officials said the proposed agreement on principles would broadly call for Israel to withdraw from about 90 per cent of Palestinian territory.