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(photo credit: AP [file])
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said after his meeting with US President George W. Bush in the White House that he was "very satisfied" with the understanding reached concerning his plan for possible unilateral withdrawal from parts of the West Bank.
In a briefing for Israeli reporters after the meeting, Olmert stressed that Bush's remarks about his plan, in which the president called Olmert's ideas "bold" and "important steps towards peace," were made in a "very clear and remarkable way,"
Members of Olmert's team noted that although the president did not completely endorse the "realignment" plan, Bush did treat it in a positive light and acknowledge it as a possible avenue in the future.
"Our preferred option, of course, is there to be a negotiated settlement," Bush said at a chummy news conference with Olmert. "On the other hand, as the prime minister said, that if he is unable to find a partner in peace, if nothing can go forward, he is willing to think about ways to advance the process forward."
Olmert will meet in the near future with Palestinian Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, following a visit to Jordan and Egypt. Olmert said Tuesday that he saw Abbas as the elected leader of the Palestinians and extended his hand in negotiation.
"The Palestinians will consider negotiations based on the road map, and nothing else," Abbas aide Nabil Abu Rdeneh said Wednesday morning in response to the meeting between Olmert and Bush. Abu Rdeneh said that Olmert was "trying to change the road map," a move that was unacceptable to the Palestinians, Israel Radio reported.
Bush, for his part, is giving surprisingly strong support to Olmert's plan to define the West Bank borders unilaterally should talks with the Palestinians prove fruitless. It could be "an important step toward the peace we both support," Bush said.
At a time when the Palestinian leadership is divided bitterly and partly controlled by a group the United States considers terrorists, Bush acknowledged Tuesday that the preferred course of negotiated borders may be impossible. Olmert promised to spare no effort to seek a settlement before striking out on his own.
Olmert said Tuesday in a press conference following his first meeting with Bush since assuming power that if Hamas should abandon its refusal to recognize Israel and its embrace of violence, "they will find us a willing partner in peace." But the prime minister insisted that Israel would not enter an agreement with any party that refuses to recognize its right to exist. "We cannot wait indefinitely for the Palestinians to change," he said.
Asked about the escalating crisis surrounding Iran's nuclear enrichment program, both Bush and Olmert said Iran must not be allowed to build a nuclear arsenal. "We are determined that the Iranian regime must not obtain nuclear weapons," Bush said.
As to Hamas' parliamentary election victory in the Palestinian territories, Bush said, "Hamas must recognize Israel's right to exist, must abandon terror, must accept all previous agreements."
"No country can be expected to make peace with those who deny its right to exist, and who use terror to attack its population," Bush said.
Earlier Tuesday, diplomatic sources said that the United States will seek international support before endorsing Olmert's plan for unilateral withdrawal from parts of the West Bank, diplomatic sources in Washington said on Tuesday night, stressing that Bush was not yet ready to adopt the unilateral Israeli move, though he did not oppose it.
Up to the last minute, Israeli and American teams were struggling over the language of the statement Bush will deliver following the meeting with Olmert. The Israelis wanted Bush to mention "other options" for a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict if it became clear there was no partner on the Palestinian side. The president's team, however, stressed the need to put the emphasis on a negotiated agreement.
While trying to emphasize Israel's willingness to negotiate with the Palestinians, Olmert said that he would only wait six to nine months for the Palestinians to present a worthy partner for negotiations before moving ahead with a unilateral plan.