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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Opposition Leader Binyamin Netanyahu blamed each other on Monday for the rise of Hamas, highlighting the growing tensions in the Knesset over how Israel should regard the new Palestinian unity government.
Olmert told the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that if the new Palestinian unity government were to free kidnapped IDF Cpl. Gilad Shalit, Israel would have to reconsider its position on the Palestinian Authority coalition.
However, Olmert also noted that "Up to now, Abbas has been an opponent of Hamas. If the new government makes the same inflated demands of Israel, it will show that [PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas] has moved from his previous position, toward Hamas."
Olmert told the committee that he would go through with plans to attend a three-way summit with Abbas and US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice next Monday despite expected domestic criticism.
According to Olmert, he would attend the meeting to explore possibilities for a "diplomatic horizon." An argument then broke out between the prime minister and Netanyahu when the opposition leader accused Olmert of giving in to Abbas.
To that, Olmert replied, "Netanyahu has gone back to being the same old Netanyahu," and accused him of directly contributing to strengthening the Hamas movement by releasing the movement's founder, Sheikh Ahmad Yassin, during his term as prime minister.
"Netanyahu established Hamas, gave it life, freed Sheikh Yassin and gave him the opportunity to blossom," he said, adding that the current political situation in the Palestinian Authority came about "because of the nonsense that was done while Netanyahu was prime minister."
In a Likud faction meeting three hours later, Netanyahu lashed back, for the first time criticizing Olmert's handling of the summer's war in Lebanon. Netanyahu broke his policy of defending the government's handling of the war, which he had done repeatedly in interviews with the foreign press.
"The prime minister clearly hasn't learned anything," Netanyahu said. "This is the same prime minister who allowed Hamas to run in Jerusalem. It's the same prime minister who is not able to nip things in the bud before they get out of hand. He gets carried away due to his lack of leadership and that was proven by the way things got out of hand in the South and then the North and his scandalous handling of the war. It's a government of failure and blunder and it has to go as soon as possible."
Netanyahu said that Abbas was "crawling to Hamas," while Olmert was "crawling to Abbas."
Olmert and Netanyahu also clashed when Olmert told the committee that peace with Syria would mean giving up the Golan Heights.
"The whole world knows that in any future negotiations, if they are renewed, we will have to give up on the entire Golan Heights," Olmert said.
He added that according to documents, prime ministers from 1993 to 2001, (Yitzhak Rabin, Netanyahu and Ehud Barak), all held negotiations with Syria during which the idea of Israel completely ceding the Golan and withdrawing to the 1967 border was put on the table.
Netanyahu interrupted Olmert saying, "How many times can Olmert repeat this lie? He knows full well that it was my insistence that we keep the Golan Heights that led to the collapse of the negotiations with Syria."
Olmert repeated that what he had said was "true and accurate," and added that "some people are always eager to prove that there is no diplomatic horizon."
Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.