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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
The Labor Party will demand that the government pursue bilateral talks for at least one year before it moves forward on the convergence plan, Labor MKs said Wednesday.
In interviews with The Jerusalem Post, nearly two-thirds of Labor MKs gave negotiations a time frame of "at least one year" as the basis for their party's continued support of convergence. However, they did not threaten to leave the coalition if Prime Minister Ehud Olmert pushed for convergence within that time.
"It is a key issue for us that a real attempt at bilateral talks be made," said MK Colette Avital. "It is the basis of our support of convergence."
Labor officials added that it was critical for Olmert to begin negotiations as soon as possible.
"We are constantly hearing about threats to [Palestinian Chairman Mahmoud] Abbas's power, and to his life. We need to talk to him while we still can," said one Labor MK.
Kadima officials said that while they also preferred bilateral talks, they were not interested in being held to a Labor-imposed timetable.
"Speaking in terms of deadlines is silly at this stage," said a high-ranking official in the Prime Minister's Office. "It is all political, and not realistically motivated."
Kadima would set its agenda according to security and diplomatic priorities, said several sources in the Prime Minister's Office.
"Our schedule for convergence will be more clear after the prime minister's visit to the United States," said a diplomatic official. "No one force will be setting our schedule. Labor will definitely not be setting our schedule."
Labor, however, insists that the one-year mark would be the bare minimum to ensure that the negotiations option was exhausted.
"Part of our basic election promise was to pursue negotiations with the Palestinians no matter what," said one veteran Labor MK. "Of course we want to see convergence happen. But we also want to see it under the right conditions."
During coalition negotiations, members of Labor's negotiation team often said that disagreements over the wording of the convergence plan was a central roadblock to Labor joining the government. Ultimately, Labor officials said they had extracted a promise from Olmert that bilateral steps would be exhausted before any unilateral moves were made.
Labor officials said they were nervous about that promise following an incident last week in which Olmert and Peretz sparred over their contact with Abbas. Peretz, who had publicly urged the government to restart negotiations with Abbas, was chastised by the prime minister for meddling in state affairs. Although government officials denied there was a rift between the two, Olmert refrained from discussing Peretz's initiative to deliver funds to the PA in the following week's cabinet meeting.
"It made us nervous to see how Peretz was shut out by Olmert the moment he started to open his mouth about negotiations," said one Labor MK. "It felt like a slap to the whole Labor Party, especially since seeing Olmert talk with Abbas was so important to us to begin with."