Olmert Japan 224.88.
(photo credit: AP)
Both Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in Tokyo and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni in Jerusalem voiced skepticism publicly for the first time on Tuesday about concluding a peace agreement with the Palestinian Authority by the end of 2008, a goal set at November's Annapolis conference.
"We have a desire to reach an agreement in the year 2008, but I am not sure we will make it," Olmert told business leaders during a meeting at a Tokyo hotel.
At the same time, Olmert - currently on a four-day visit to Japan - said Israel was "determined to make a giant step forward to end this dispute once and for all."
There would be "no better opportunity and we want to make every possible effort to seize this opportunity," the prime minister said.
Olmert has said on several occasions recently that Israel would be hard-pressed to find a more favorable international environment in which to reach an agreement, inasmuch as Israel has strong allies in US President George W. Bush, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and Quartet envoy Tony Blair.
Bush has said a number of times since Annapolis, including during his visit here in January, that he felt a 2008 deadline for drawing up an agreement was realistic.
But Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Monday warned that if the Bush administration didn't make good on its pledge to "make 2008 the year to broker peace, then there will never be any future chances to achieve this goal."
Livni, who heads the Israeli team negotiating with the PA, told the Jewish Agency's Board of Governors on Tuesday that a future Palestinian state would need to provide a "full answer" to the nationalistic aspirations of the Palestinians, including the refugee issue.
"We expect the international community to respect the fact that the negotiations are bilateral," she said. "There is no need to try to push us to compromise on things on which we are not able to compromise. I don't know if we will reach agreements, or when. But there is also a price in doing nothing."
Livni also took to task unnamed countries for trying to "understand the motivations of terrorism," saying that not only did this not lead to a solution, but it was used by extremists to spread their radical ideology.
"That ideology is not connected to the national aspirations of the Palestinians," she said. "That ideology undermines the pragmatic regimes in the Middle East, and not only Israel."