Prime Minister Ehud Olmert arrived in Rome Wednesday morning for a day of meetings with top Italian officials. In an interview in La Repubblica published on Tuesday, Olmert said he was willing to meet with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud "anywhere, anytime and without preconditions" and was prepared to make territorial concessions that would "enable Palestinians in the West Bank to have a compact territory. For this we will cede all necessary territories," he said.
Olmert met with Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican, before scheduled talks with Italian Premier Romano Prodi and other top officials.
He will also meet with the Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, as well as with members of the Jewish community.
Prodi recently put a damper on D'Alema's proposal to deploy international peacekeeping troops in the Gaza Strip. The bottom line, Prodi said, was that "any intervention must first be preceded and accompanied by an agreement between Israelis and Palestinians."
Olmert called the idea "interesting but premature," saying the situation in Gaza was much more difficult than in southern Lebanon because of out-of-control armed groups and the lack of a central authority.
"Is Italy ready to fight and sacrifice its soldiers, risk their lives as we do with ours because we have no other choice?" Olmert asked in an RAI television interview.
Both Prodi and D'Alema advocate Italy's traditional foreign policy of negotiations plus material and psychological concessions. However Italy may now be prepared to respond favorably to demands for action to contain Teheran's nuclear arms program and to recognize that the Iranian threat extends far beyond Israel.
Italy opposes forceful intervention to stop arms traffic to Hizbullah from Syria and would like to engage Damascus in peace talks.
A recent meeting in Rome between D'Alema and Democratic US Congressman Robert Wexler of Florida, the incoming chairman of the House of Representatives' Subcommittee on Europe and Emerging Threats, was indicative of the countries divergent approaches to Middle East policy.
Wexler's response to Italian - and more generally, European - statements that solving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict would be a panacea for all other troubles in the Middle East was that "the US has a more sober view."
Hizbullah, a nuclear Israel-hating Iranian leadership, the conflict between moderate and extremist forces within the Arab-Islamic world, etc., he said, had "little or nothing to do with the Palestine-Israel issue - although of course we recognize the importance of finding a long-term solution."
He said, "The remarkably bold and courageous efforts initiated by the Israeli government recently are awaiting a reciprocally bold and constructive response from the Palestinian side," and that there were "new opportunities to engage the broader Arab world alongside Europe and the US."