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OLMERT'S LAST STAND?

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert: 'No Chance Of Agreement On

Jerusalem With Palestinians This Year - However Differences Are Small On Other Core Issues'

'Palestinian Refugee Issue Can Be Solved Outside Of Israel's Borders'

Knesset Members: 'What Is Olmert Talking About - He's On His Way Out Of Office!'

Although he is being investigated for political and financial corruption, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is not letting that interfere with his current contacts with both the Palestinians and Syrians. He has just briefed the Knesset Foreign Affairs & Defense Committee on where things stand. However, most of the MKs told IsraCast that Olmert had no business conducting negotiations under the present circumstances and making concessions on his way out of office.

These may be Ehud Olmert's last months in office: he may soon be indicted or toppled by his own Kadima party. Nonetheless, Israel's Prime Minister is moving full speed ahead with both the Palestinians and the Syrians. In a closed door briefing to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Ehud Olmert spelled out where things stand on a number of fronts.

The gap was being closed on most of the core issues in his contacts with West Bank Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. However, it would not be possible to wrap up an agreement on Jerusalem this year, something U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is pushing for. However, Olmert spoke of a 'mechanism' in place to carry on the Jerusalem question. On the other hand, there were no 'dramatic differences' on the question of refugees and final borders. It was possible to resolve the Palestinian refugee issue without Israel taking responsibility for resettling them within Israel's borders. And the Prime Minister declared: 'Israel is the national homeland of the Jewish people and Palestine is for the Palestinians'. He went on to say that any Palestinian agreement would be brought before the Israeli people and not concluded 'behind their back'. Opposition leader Bibi Netanyahu interjected: 'How is that?' Olmert cracked: 'Don't worry Bibi. I'll even consult with you'.

As for the recent spate of terror attacks in Jerusalem, Olmert warned there would be more bulldozer and tractor attacks as long as 270,000 Arabs from east Jerusalem were part of Israel's capital. It was impossible for the Shabak security service to preempt east Jerusalemites who suddenly went on the rampage. He noted that the gunman who suddenly went on the shooting spreeat the Merkaz Harav seminary had actually driven a bus with forty Jewish kids earlier in the day. And he added just imagine what would have happened if he had carried out his attack on the school kids.

Olmert agreed with Shabak chief Yuval Diskin's proposal that the family homes of terrorists be demolished as a deterrent. However, Olmert added that even if the legal obstacles were overcome there was no guarantee the demolitions would prevent future attacks in the capital. The Gaza cease-fire was still holding despite the sporadic launching of rockets into Israel. And Israel was aware that Hamas was smuggling explosives into Gaza for its military buildup. The question was whether these 'acts of wars' justified an Israeli retaliation. At present, Olmert was of the view they were not serious enough for Israel to respond, but this could change in the future.

In the north, the Prime Minister believed that Hezbollah was now preoccupied with its internal machinations inside Lebanon and he did not foresee a flare-up along the Lebanese frontier. As for Syria, Olmert denied that he has given the Syrians a 'deposit' - an Israeli commitment to withdraw from all of the Golan Heights, as former Israeli leaders had done. It was now up to Syrian President Bashar Assad to come to direct peace negotiations with Israel - this would be the true test of Assad's intentions. The Prime Minister's detailed briefing was overshadowed by the speculation that Ehud Olmert is probably on his way of office. Meretz MK Yossi Beilin and NRP Effi Eitam reacted in interviews with Isracast.

 

David Essing

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