Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert met top advisers on Thursday to prepare for his first meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas since the two leaders launched formal peace talks last week.

Olmert and Abbas are expected to meet on December 12 for the first round of talks since they agreed at a U.S.-sponsored conference to try to broker a deal on Palestinian statehood by the end of 2008.

An Israeli official said Olmert met Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Defence Minister Ehud Barak to prepare their position before meeting Palestinian negotiators next week.

The post-Annapolis process is going to start next week and it is clear that important preparatory work must be done so that the process can succeed, said Olmert's spokesman Mark Regev.

Senior Abbas aide Saeb Erakat, a member of the Palestinian negotiating team, said: We intend to engage seriously to reach the end game of all the final status issues before the end of 2008.

The sides agreed at the conference in Annapolis, Maryland to discuss final status issues such as borders, the future of Palestinian refugees and Jerusalem.

Many observers think the 2008 goal is too ambitious given Abbas and Olmert are both weak, and big differences remain between the two sides on key issues.

The peace process hit its first snag in the week following the peace conference as Palestinian leaders accused Israel of trying to torpedo negotiations with a plan to build new homes on land it seized in the Jerusalem area 40 years ago.

Abbas on Thursday described last week's conference convened by U.S. President George W. Bush as difficult.