Israeli Prime Minister ready to talk to Mahmoud Abbas — it's up to the Palestinians, Olmert says

At a news conference with foreign journalists in Jerusalem on Wednesday evening, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was asked when he will be meeting Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Olmert replied: “I am ready. I hope to resume meetings with President Abbas as soon as possible – it’s entirely up to the Palestinians”.

He indicated that he was not sure such a meeting could be held before U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice arrives again in the region on 28 March – one reason, Olmert said, is that President Abbas is traveling.

Olmert said: “We want to try to reach an understanding with the Palestinians, and I believe Mahmoud Abbas wants to reach an agreement with us. Palestinians will have to implement all the conditions for the Road Map, and I’m fully aware of what we have to do (as well), and I don’t deny it. In the meantime, we have to talk”.

He added: “While we still fight with the Palestinians, we talk with them in a way we never did in the past”.

The Israeli Prime Minister told the press that “What we are trying to reach this year is a very accurate outline and definition of all basic issues”.

Yes, he said, he wanted to see an agreement this year. “If we do not reach agreement this year, it will take time for any new (American) administration to get into all the complexities, so the sooner the better”.

Olmert maintained that “Any agreement is subject to implementation of the Road Map”. Yet, he said, dealing with the settlements “will be the outcome of negotiations. It’s very obvious that the negotiations will define in a very accurate way all our borders”.

But, Olmert cited the 14 April 2004 letter from U.S. President George W. Bush to then-Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon as providing the basis for developing “existing population centers” in the West Bank as well as in East Jerusalem.

Israel will not build any more settlements, Olmert said, nor will it expropriate any more land. And, illegal outposts will be dealt with, he indicated. But, he stressed, “in population centers there were be more additional building”, and “the reality on the ground will continue to change”.

He said that this had been made very clear at the outset of the present Annapolis process.

Recent Israeli announcements of a number of new housing tenders for Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem and one in the West Bank (Givat Ze’ev), were made immediately after the recent attack by an East Jerusalem Palestinian on the Mercaz HaRav yeshiva, which killed eight students there (four of whom were children under the age of 18).

On Givat Zeev, Olmert brushed off any criticism. “Most of the apartments approved are already built, and paid for, for many years”, he said.

In an opinion piece published in Haaretz today, a former Palestinian Authority Minister of State Kadura Fares, one of the young Fatah leaders who also was a signatory to the Geneva Initiative, wrote that “Housing Minister Ze’ev Boim explained away the construction of 750 new housing units in the settlement of Givat Ze’ev by saying that the permits had been issued in 1999, but that construction had stopped due to, as he put it, the ‘outbreak of violence’. That is, the outbreak of the Palestinian uprising. According to Boim, the contractors went to court, and as a result of their petition, the government ordered the construction’s approval. Boim was talking, it seems to me, to Israelis and overseas leaders critical of the renewed construction. He did not notice that Palestinians were also listening to him. I am one of those who listened, and I understood from his statements that Boim is inviting us – the Palestinians – to start another intifada. Boim’s statements reminded me how, at the end of the last decade, at the height of the peace talks, when we were closer to the finish line than ever before, the Israelis continued unremittingly to build settlements. That is the case today: After Annapolis, the Paris conference, and the renewal of talks on the highest level, Israel is once more expanding its settlement construction. The conclusion: Only when we launch an uprising does construction in the settlements cease; under the umbrella of negotiations, the settlement enterprise is revived. This, despite the fact that every Palestinian and every Israeli knows that the settlements are the main obstacle to a peace treaty”…

Haaretz added: “The writer is a senior member of the Fatah movement, and a member of the Palestinian peace coalition”. The full opinion piece by Kadura Fares can be read here .

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