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OLMERT'S CALCULATED RISKS

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert : 'I'm Ready To Take Calculated Risk & Lift Some Israeli Checkpoints On the West Bank To Help Shore Up Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas'

'IDF Maneuvers ON Golan Heights Are Routine & Israel Has No Intention Of Attacking Syria'

Opposition Leader Bibi Netanyahu: 'Talk Of Palestinian State Will Lead To Establishing Iranian State On Israel's Borders'

PM Ehud Olmert (Photo: Amit Shabi)

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has spelled out a series of concessions to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and his West Bank government. In a briefing to the Knesset Foreign Affairs & Defense Committee, Olmert spoke of lifting some West Bank checkpoints in addition to transferring hundreds of millions of Palestinian tax money to Abbas and seeking a new approach to peace talks. But IsraCast reports that Olmert also stressed that his 'calculated risks' were conditioned on Abbas leading a 'Hamas-free' government.

A 'Hamas-free' Palestinian government will pave the way to major Israeli concession to the West Bank regime headed by President Mahmoud Abbas - that was the message from Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

'I am ready to lift some Israeli checkpoints inside the West Bank now that Abbas and his prime minister, Salam Fayyad have formed a new Palestinian government. Mindful that these roadblocks could be exploited by terrorists to send more suicide bombers into Israel, Olmert spoke of a 'calculated risk'.

But the move would give Palestinians greater freedom of movement and hopefully shore up Abbas and his Fatah movement in the power struggle with Hamas. In addition, Olmert would continue meeting Abbas with the aim of 'creating an infrastructure with a political horizon' and he is already committed to releasing 250 Palestinian prisoners without 'blood on their hands'.

At the same time, Olmert declared that Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad must keep their word about cracking down on terrorism. He noted the Palestinian Authority has banned illegal weapons on the West Bank saying: 'Abbas knows that if he returns to the Hamas fold, all deals are off'.

Opposition leader Bibi Netanyahu of the Likud was far less optimistic. In his view, Israel could not expect the Fatah-led government to curb terrorism from the West Bank. And Netanyahu argued: 'All the territory Israel relinquishes becomes an Iranian forward base. Talk about a Palestinian state will only lead to an Iranian state on Israel's border'.

Syria: Olmert clarified that an IDF exercise now underway on the Golan Heights is part of a routine training program. He criticized the scare headlines in today's Maariv newspaper about heightened tension with Syria warning that irresponsible media reports could trigger 'miscalculations'. While declaring that Israel had no intention of attacking Syria, Olmert also noted Syria's recent military buildup. He hoped Damascus had no plans to attack Israel. In any case, Israel had taken precautions not to be caught by surprise. The Prime Minister downplayed Syria's offer to enter peace negotiations saying Damascus wanted to dictate the terms of the talks.

Darfur Refugees: Olmert disclosed there were now some 2,800 illegal residents being detained in Israel mainly from Africa and Europe who had sneaked in from Egyptian controlled Sinai. Of this number 1,160 came from Sudan. Those from Darfur, whose lives were in danger would be allowed to remain and resettled herein keeping with the U. N. refugee regulations. Egypt's president Mubarak agreed that all the others would be returned to Egypt.

Footnote: In his briefing, Olmert did not refer in detail to the first anniversary of his launching of the Second Lebanon War after Hezbollah carried out a cross border raid that killed eight IDF soldiers and abducted two others.One hundred and sixty- three Israelis, 119 soldiers and 44 civilians were killed in the 34 day conflict. Olmert did say: ' I am proud of my decision to save the north from Hezbollah attacks'. And he added that the multi- national force was blocking Hezbollah's return to south Lebanon. Olmert, who was been severely criticized for not participating in a memorial service for the fallen |Israelis, explained that his doing so would have subjected bereaved relatives to hours of security checking.

The Prime Minister's obvious effort to build momentum on the Palestinian track also impacts on the domestic political scene.In another few months the Winograd Enquiry is to publish its final report which could lambaste Olmert for his handling of the Second Lebanon War. This could trigger public pressure demanding his resignation. With this in mind, the Prime Minister must obviously be aspiring to improve his public image perhaps through his handling of the new Palestinian situation after the rift between Fatah and Hamas. If it is possible to promote progress with Abbas on the West Bank this could aid Olmert in rejecting pressure to resign over Lebanon. If not, Olmert can count on Defense Minister Ehud Barak to provide security solutions. One problem though, Barak has just told his Labor party that he stands by his commitment to bolt the government if Winograd hauls Olmert over the coals.

David Essing

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