PM to Kadima: Israel has a peace partner

PM optimistic on Abbas, vows to propose release of prisoners "without blood on hands" to cabinet.

By GIL STERN STERN HOFFMAN
September 20, 2007 21:14
2 minute read.
PM to Kadima: Israel has a peace partner

Olmert 298. (photo credit: AP)

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will propose the release of more Fatah security prisoners "without blood on their hands" at Sunday's cabinet meeting, Olmert announced Thursday in a speech to the Kadima council at the party's Petah Tikva headquarters. The release of prisoners ahead of Ramadan was supposed to be voted on at last Sunday's cabinet meeting, but the vote was delayed due to the Kassam attack on the IDF's Zikim training base. Olmert said it was important to make gestures to strengthen Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and to send the Palestinians a message that peace talks brought results. "For years we said there was no partner, but now all indications are that there is a partner," he said. "We cannot ignore the fact that the elected leader of the Palestinian people, President Abu Mazen, believes as we do that a solution to the conflict is only possible via dialogue between the two nations." In his last meeting with Abbas, Olmert said, they decided that task forces would draft a joint declaration ahead of November's Middle East conference in Washington. He said if an agreement was reached on such a declaration and the leaders of moderate Arab countries attended, the conference would be a success. Diplomatic sources said Olmert received an impression from US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Thursday that she had agreed to his request to limit the scope of the conference to a joint declaration, despite the Palestinian request for the meeting to yield an outline for a peace deal. The sources said no document would be signed at the summit. "There is no crisis," a diplomatic source said, denying reports that Rice pressured Olmert for more concessions than he was willing to make. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni reiterated that in any agreement not a single Palestinian refugee would be allowed to return to their home in Israel. Olmert and Rice spoke for two hours about the summit and regional issues such as Iran in the meeting at Olmert's Tel Aviv office. Olmert's and Rice's advisers, including Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Welch and Deputy National Security Adviser Elliott Abrams, were present for all but 20 minutes of the session. But Olmert and Rice had met one-on-one for about three hours the previous evening. Olmert told the Kadima council the UN General Assembly would vote to strengthen sanctions on Teheran at its meeting in New York next week. "Iran is the central threat to Israel, yet Iran threatens not only Israel but the entire free world," he said. "We are at a critical time and we are handing the Iranian issue carefully and with good judgment. We are not trying to make headlines. We are trying to remove the [Iranian] threat." Tovah Lazaroff contributed to this report.


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