Ehud Olmert, Israeli prime minister, told his cabinet on Sunday that he did not regard a joint declaration of principles for a future peace deal to be necessary ahead of the conference.

The Palestinians have said that they will not attend the meeting unless such a document is agreed.

Al Jazeera's David Chater in Jerusalem said Rice's shuttle diplomacy had done more to expose the divisions between the two sides than it had to resolve their differences.
 
"It puts the whole idea of the Annapolis summit in doubt. It could indeeed be postponed as some American officials have been revealing from Washington in recent days," he said.

Invitations

Rice said Washington was holding off issuing invitations to the international conference in Annapolis, Maryland, while Israel and the Palestinians worked on the document.
 

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"We've not issued invitations because we want the work of this bilateral track to continue very aggressively," she said.

Ahmed Abul Gheit, Egypt's foreign minister, has said that the conference should be postponed unless there is an agreement on the basis for the talks.

In a statement on Monday, he accused "some in Israel of depleting US efforts to come out of the meeting with a credible and binding joint document".

"Rushing into holding the meeting without an agreement over a substantive and positive document may damage opportunities to achieve a just peace," Abul Gheit said.

The Israeli and Palestinian drafting teams were to meet in Jerusalem later on Monday, according to the office of Ahmed Qureia, the chief Palestinian negotiator. The teams had met only once before.

Palestinian state

Rice held four hours of talks with Abbas in the West Bank on Monday after meeting Israeli leaders on Sunday.

She used the joint press conference with Abbas after the meeting to reaffirm Washington's commitment to securing an independent state for the Palestinians.

"Frankly, it's time for the establishment of a Palestinian state"

Condoleezza Rice, US secretary
of state
"Frankly, it's time for the establishment of a Palestinian state," Rice said.

"I wanted to say in my own voice, to be able to say to as many people as possible, that the United States sees the establishment of a Palestinian state and a two-state solution as absolutely essential for the future."

She said that George Bush, US president, had made ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict a top priority as his administration comes to an end.

Abbas said that he expected November's conference to launch new peace talks, and that a deadline should be set for completion.

However, Israel has rejected the idea of setting a timetable and US officials have been reluctant fix a deadline.

Land seizures

The Palestinian president said he had also asked Washington for assistance in halting the expansion of Israeli settlements and the ongoing construction of the separation barrier.

Israel has been criticised over planned land expropriations for a West Bank road project.

The Palestinians fear the seizures are meant to tighten Israeli control over strategic West Bank areas near Jerusalem while Israel says they will improve travel for the Palestinians.

However, Olmert appeared to suggest later on Monday that Israel would consider handing over outlying Palestinian neighbourhoods of Jerusalem in a future peace deal.
   
He questioned the logic of a decision to include those areas in the city's expanded municipal boundaries after Israel annexed Arab East Jerusalem during the 1967 war.
"Was it neccesary to include the Shuafat camp, Arab al-Sawahre, Wallaje and other villages and conclude that this is Jerusalem," Olmert asked in a speech to parliament.

Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of an independent state under any future peace deal.