Monday, September 24, 2007

PM: Final status deal with Palestinians will take 20-30 years

Israel will definitely make a large-scale withdrawal from the West Bank, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Monday as part of a diplomatic overview. However, the prime minister said, he did not expect Israel to reach a final status agreement with the Palestinians for another 20 or 30 years.

"You don't have a mandate from the Jewish people to make these concessions," Likud MK Silvan Shalom told the prime minister. Shalom said that in order to implement a West Bank withdrawal, Olmert would need either a referendum or new elections.

Olmert stressed that to date, there was no draft agreement with the Palestinians. If there were, he said, he would present it to the cabinet for approval.

The Palestinian leadership wants to move forward with the peace process, and if Israel won't talk with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and PA Prime Minister Salaam Fayad, it won't find any other partner, Olmert said.

Refusing to talk to the Palestinians means an endless cycle of violence, Olmert asserted.

Opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu rejected Olmert's statements, telling him, "You're the only one who genuinely thinks that [Abbas] is a partner who can keep Israel secure."

Netanyahu said any agreement between Olmert and Abbas would lead to Hamas taking over the West Bank and "missiles on Gush Dan."

Israel's contact with Abbas has deepened since the Palestinian unity government broke up and Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip, Israel saw the collapse of the PA unity government as an opportunity to strengthen ties with moderate Palestinian elements and give them a footing to attract popular opinion in the Palestinian street, Olmert said.

"In recent months, we've thought it right to lend international support to the moderates through meetings attended by ... nations that support peace between the Palestinians and Israel and accept the international demands [on Hamas] and the road map peace plan," the prime minister continued.

Addressing the planned release of 90 Palestinian security prisoners approved by the cabinet on Sunday, FADC committee member Zvi Hendel (NU-NRP) told Olmert that he would accept a decision to release terrorists if [Olmert] would "promise to resign the minute one of the prisoners freed attacked a Jew."

Turning to the current situation between Israel and Syria, Olmert said that neither side wanted a violent conflict, and that the prevailing tension would soon dissipate.

Olmert said, however, that at the moment, both Israel and Syria were "on their guard."

"We see their forces [deployed], and they see ours," he said.

The prime minister also said that Israel was concerned by recent events in Lebanon, particularly violent attacks, such as last Wednesday's car bomb attack that killed anti-Syrian lawmaker Antoine Ghanem and left eight others dead.

Turning to the upcoming summit in Washington, in which Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni is due to meet with Abbas, Olmert said that it would not be a "peace conference," but rather an "international meeting meant to garner international support for the peace process with the Palestinians."

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