The Israel Cabinet voted to allow release of 441 prisoners in order o fulfill Prime Ministerf Olmert’s pledge that he would release some of those in jail as a gesture of good will. He also made a strong statement regarding the building of West Bank settlements. “Let’s be straight, we committed ourselves in the road map not to build new settlements and we will not build any.” However, the Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, responded to the announcement by noting, “He omitted from the Israel obligation in the road map that the Israel government must freeze all settlements including natural growth.” There apparently is some confusion as to whether or not Olmert’s statement forbids natural growth of new building arising from the present number of people in settlements.
Prime Minister Olmert insists that Annapolis is “not a conference for negotiation” but a meeting to discuss future negotiation. This stance is bound to irritate other nations who are coming with expectations that something substantial will emerge from the time they are devoting to the Israel-Palestinian conflict. If the only outcome is an agreement to “talk” what exactly is new? Abbas and Olmert have been talking for months so why have a meeting to get them to talk. It would be helpful if Olmert came to Annapolis prepared to make some dramatic offer, but all signs indicate he simply wants more talk.