Blair olmert 298.88.
(photo credit: AP)
British Prime Minister Tony Blair stopped far short of endorsing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's West Bank realignment plan in a joint press conference at 10 Downing Street on Monday, declining to reiterate the positive statements made by US President George W. Bush last month in Washington.
While Bush called the plan "bold" and said that it "could be an important step toward peace," the closest Blair came to an endorsement was to say that in lieu of an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, "other ways will have to be found." Instead, he repeatedly insisted that a negotiated settlement was the one way to solve the conflict.
"I don't want to go down any path other than a negotiated settlement," Blair said. "The only answer is a negotiated settlement. There really isn't another way to move forward."
Blair lamented past failures to bring about a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. He pleaded with the Palestinians to accept the international community's three conditions for dialogue of disarming, accepting past agreements and recognizing Israel's existence.
"I don't want to go down any other path than a negotiated settlement but the reality is that this thing has got to be moved forward by negotiations or we are in a stalemate that Israel is necessarily and realistically going to want to unlock," Blair said. "We the international community have got a choice. We either put our best effort into making sure that a negotiated settlement becomes a reality or we are going to face a different reality."
In a briefing to reporters following the press conference, Olmert took pains to paint his meeting with Blair and the press conference as a success. His aides even said that in their one-on-one meeting, the British leader advised Olmert on how to sell his plan to Europe.
When reporters asked Olmert if he was disappointed, he asked if they had attended the same press conference.
"I am not disappointed - the opposite - I am very positive," Olmert said. "I think it's na ve to expect all the leaders of the world to stand up and pledge allegiance to the plan. Blair didn't say anything to suggest he opposes the plan. When Sharon proposed disengagement, it took a long time to get the praise it eventually received."
Olmert also had to combat a skeptical British press that referred to realignment as an "annexation plan" and portrayed it as a land grab. A BBC reporter asked Olmert how he could justify holding on to parts of the West Bank and Jordan Valley. Olmert responded that he told Blair that "had he been told years ago that an Israeli prime minister wanted to withdraw from 90% of the territories, he would have called it a miracle."
Sending an olive branch to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Olmert said he would start by offering 90 percent and then negotiate what to do with the remaining 10. Asked later whether the 90 percent figure was intended specifically, the prime minister said it was a "general direction." Olmert said that a team would soon be sent to Abbas to prepare for his long-awaited meeting with him later this month.
Responding to the Kassam rockets being fired at Sderot, Olmert warned Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ismail Haniya that "no one involved in terror would have immunity." He said he saw no reason to cut short his trip to England and France due to the attacks.
When asked about the incident on the Gaza beach that killed seven Palestinians on Friday, Olmert said that while the Palestinians intentionally fire on Israeli civilians in Sderot, if Israel were at fault for Friday's incident it was only "a mistake." Blair said it was equally tragic when Israelis were killed.
Lighter moments in the press conference occurred when Blair was asked about the two leaders' differences in the British soccer teams they favor and when Blair apologized for the noise from electric fans in the room that lacked air conditioning.
Olmert also met on Monday with British Jewish leaders and with Conservative opposition leader David Cameron. He will meet Tuesday with new Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett and Blair's presumed successor, the Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown, before flying to Paris.
On Wednesday, Olmert will meet with French President Jacques Chirac and Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin. He will also dedicate a remembrance wall to righteous gentiles at a Holocaust memorial together with de Villepin and meet French Jewish leaders. Olmert's European tour will end on Thursday with a meeting with French foreign minister Philippe Douste-Blazy and Chirac's presumed successor, Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy.