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Olmert 'Goes For Broke'

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert: 'Annapolis will be a one day meeting to launch serious and intensive peace negotiations with Palestinians'

'Peace accord can be reached before President Bush leaves office'

'I am ready to negotiate all stages of roadmap before Palestinians halt terrorism'

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert (Photo: Amit Shabi)

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is pulling out all the stops in his drive to wrap up a Palestinian peace treaty before US President George Bush leaves office in January 2009. In a briefing to the Knesset Foreign affairs and defense committee, Olmert spelled out his approach which stunned both his coalition partners and opposition rivals. IsraCast says it is still an open question whether the Prime Minister coalition partners are on board his radical shift from traditional foreign policy.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is going for broke in his attempt to forge a peace treaty with the Palestinians before President George Bush leaves office in just over a year. Olmert believes it is possible 'to bridge the gaps', After his recent one-on-one talks with Palestinian leaders Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad.

Later this month, Annapolis will serve as the 'launching' of a new and serious round of negotiations. However, Annapolis itself will be a one day meeting, not a full fledged peace conference. Its goal is to provide massive international support including from dozens of Muslim states. On this score, Olmert favors the participation of Syria, although the Golan Heights would not be on the agenda. After declaring that the Annapolis would act as a potential GPS, showing the direction towards peace, Olmert dropped his own bombshell. He would be willing to negotiate all stages of the Roadmap peace plan, before the Palestinians implement stage one which calls for an end to terrorism.

Former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (Photo: Amit Shabi)

On the other hand, Olmert said Israel would not implement any of the other clauses, until the Palestinians rein in the Terrorists. This is a clear departure from former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon who insisted that the Palestinians first had to stop terrorism before advancing to other negotiations. During his term, Sharon repeatedly declared that he would stand behind this sequential framework of the Roadmap. In other words, no stage two before the Palestinians implemented stage one. Why has Olmert adopted this dramatic change of course? The Prime Minister says that after his recent 'brainstorming sessions' with Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad, he feels they are ready to accept the two-stage solution. That is Palestine for the Palestinians and Israel for the Jewish people. Here Olmert stressed that this issue was not open for negotiations.

Olmert also emphasized that time is of the essence. International and regional conditions are better today than they will be in another two or three years. Moreover, the Prime Minister said chances were slim to zero that more effective Palestinian leaders would emerge in the future, nor could the current Palestinian leadership survive without movement toward a Palestinian political horizon. In addition, Israel also planned on releasing more Palestinians before Annapolis in order to bolster Mahmoud Abbas.

Opposition leader Benyamin Netanyahu

After recovering from their initial shock, right-wing opposition members hauled Olmert over the coals. The Likud's Bibi Netanyahu accused the Prime Minister of jeopardizing Israel's vital interests. He said the Palestinian leaders on the west bank were doing nothing to halt terrorism, while Israel was ready to concede more and more to them! Netanyahu went on to say that Olmert's shift was not simply procedural; in fact it would lead to a future Hamas takeover of the West Bank.

Knesset Member Zvi Hendel of the National Union rose to his feet yelling at Olmert: 'You're a Chutzpan! (from Chutzpa), after already handing over Gaza to Hamas you want to do the same with the West Bank'? And Knesset member Effy Eitam warned Olmert: 'do you really think you can negotiate an on-the-shelf deal with the Palestinians and then refuse to implement it because they haven't stopped the terrorists?' Olmert retorted: 'every grain from the Jordan to the Mediterranean is also sacred to me; but if we don't move now a conflict will deteriorate in to the Algeria model and then Israel will be portrayed as South Africa'. So much for the opposition, but how will Labor leader Ehud Barak react? Barak was recently quoted as saying: 'Annapolis will amount to no more that an air-filled souffle - if pricked with a pin it will collapse!'

David Essing

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