Foreign ministers from Israel and the Palestinian territories are holding talks with EU officials during a two-day conference in Lisbon. They are a prelude to upcoming discussions in the US on Palestinian statehood.
In Lisbon, the EU will try to pave the way for a later US meeting on Mideast peace
The foreign ministers will talk separately with senior European Union in Lisbon at the 9th Euro-Mediterranean Conference which runs until Tuesday, Nov. 6. Discussions are expected to focus on the Middle East peace process.
Tensions are now high in the Middle East after Israeli air and ground strikes on Sunday killed four Palestinians, including three civilians. Palestinian militants fired six missiles at western Israel, causing a power outage in one town.
There are not expected to be any direct talks between Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and her Palestinian counterpart, Riyad Malki, but the two of them are expected to face each other during a dinner Monday with fellow foreign ministers from the EU and the Mediterranean area.
The Euro-Mediterranean Partnership was set up in 1995 and aims on establishing a common area of peace and security and works toward enhancing cooperation between the EU and 10 of its southern neighbors.
Praise for Olmert
The European Union's foreign policy chief Javier Solana on Monday praised the "constructive" approach of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to the upcoming US-sponsored conference on the Middle East, saying it could help bring peace to the region.
EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana addresses the media in Lisbon
Preparations are being made for the international conference to be held later this year in Annapolis, Maryland, although no specific date has been set.
"Olmert yesterday gave a very constructive speech, one of his best in recent times," Solana said. "If that is the spirit with which he is approaching the [Middle East peace] process, I think we have many chances of having a positive outcome."
Solana was addressing reporters in Lisbon ahead of talks between senior EU officials and the foreign ministers of Israel and the Palestinian Territories.
Speaking in Israel on Sunday, Olmert said he was willing to deal with the core issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at the conference.
"[The conference] will be the start of a future process ... we will enter into intense and continuous negotiations," Olmert said.
Before Bush leaves office
Many of the players in these upcoming negotiations have said they hope that a two-state solution to the complex Israeli-Palestinian problem can be arrived at before US President George W. Bush leaves office in January 2009.
Palestinian President Abbas, right, shakes hands with Condoleezza Rice
After talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the occupied West Bank, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said she hoped the peace conference in the United States could be the "launching pad" for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations leading the way to a Palestinian state.
"Negotiations that I sincerely hope, as Prime Minister Olmert said last night, could achieve their goals in the time remaining in the Bush administration," she said.
Rice met Palestinian leaders one day after talks in Israel on her eighth visit to the region this year.
"All the parties agree and are determined to reach an agreement before the end of Bush's term in office and we are determined that this serves as our deadline and we are working towards that," said Abbas.
Olmert also said he hoped for the negotiations could be completed before January 2009. And speaking in Lisbon, the EU's Solana said Europe shared Olmert's hopes of seeing the peace process bring about results by that date.
The EU's foreign policy chief, whose official title is the EU High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, plans to visit the region next week.
"I hope to see for myself what are the chances of success. I think a success is possible," Solana said.