Olmert on Monday expressed readiness to make "tangible" changes in the West Bank, telling Abbas that he understood that their months of talks must be accompanied by action on the ground, Olmert spokesman Mark Regev said.
"We understand fully that political dialogue must be supported by tangible steps on the ground or you can have cynicism on the ground," Regev said, but did not elaborate.
Erekat confirmed that Olmert told Abbas Israel
wants to alleviate the situation for Palestinians in the West Bank
, but no changes were announced, he said.
"We heard this many times before," Erekat said.
"We hope that this time the Palestinian people will be able to see it with their own eyes. The understanding of Israel will depend on the actual removal of the roadblocks, not just understanding that we suffer."
On Sunday, Rice made unusually direct remarks about the consequences of Israeli construction and roadblocks in the West Bank, saying she "continues to raise with the Israelis the importance of creating an atmosphere that is conducive to negotiations".
|Analysts says little progress is being made|
since the Annapolis conference [AFP]
"That means doing nothing, certainly, that would suggest that there is any prejudicing of the final terms" of a deal setting up a separate Palestinian state in the West Bank, Rice said.
Palestinians say that Israel has removed only small barriers or partially dismantled obstacles despite pledging to pull them down.
Rice said she will question the "qualitative character'" of some of the roadblocks Israel has already removed.
"We don't want to get into a numbers game where you just remove 'X' number of roadblocks but it's not improving the lives of the Palestinians," she said.
Since 2000, Israel set up a network of hundreds of checkpoints, gates and barriers in the occupied West Bank.
After Rice's last trip in late March, Israel said it planned to remove 61 barriers but a UN survey subsequently found that only 44 obstacles had been scrapped and that most were of little or no significance.
Abbas has sounded increasingly disheartened in recent weeks, warning that Israel's reluctance to bring real change on the ground is threatening chances of closing a deal by the time George Bush ends his term as US president in January.
The meetings between Olmert and Abbas have produced few obvious results since talks resumed last year, although the sides have insisted some secrecy is necessary for success.
The negotiations are meant to solve the most contentious issues in the decades-old conflict, including borders, Palestinian refugees and the dispute over Jerusalem.
Abbas aides, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the Palestinian president is giving the negotiations two or three months to produce progress and will consider resigning if he believes the talks have failed.
Regev said on Monday it was still realistic to reach an agreement by the end of the year.