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(photo credit: AP)
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert blamed the Palestinian Authority on Sunday for lacking the courage to conclude a peace agreement with Israel.
"We were ready to sign a peace agreement; the Palestinians, to my regret, did not have the courage to do so," Olmert said, in what were likely his final remarks during a regular cabinet meeting before leaving office.
"If we have not reached [this agreement] by now, this is - first and foremost - the result of the Palestinian leaders' weakness, lack of will and lack of courage in reaching an agreement," he said. "Everything else is excuses and attempts to divert attention from the main issue."
Nabil Abu Rudaineh, a spokesman for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, dismissed Olmert's remarks as "baseless."
"What Olmert says is entirely false," Rudaineh told AFP. "The proposals [during the talks] did not include conditions for the creation of an independent Palestinian state on all Palestinian territory occupied in 1967 with east Jerusalem as its capital. Israel did not present a single map and not a single serious position that could lead to a real peace on the basis of two states."
But in defending the negotiations, which he conducted along with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, Olmert said that his government had made "long, interesting and greater strides than any previous negotiations by any Israeli."
In stating this, he noted that past governments, including that of former prime minister Ehud Barak, had made great efforts, "including the historic 2000 meeting at Camp David, which did not yield the result that it should have."
Olmert credited Livni for her hard work in heading the negotiating team with the Palestinians during his premiership.
"She made great, detailed, complex and wide-ranging efforts, the likes of which have not been seen in a long time," said Olmert.
He said that he doubted "that any future government will be able to conduct negotiations without the infrastructure that has been prepared by Minister Livni's team."
The outgoing premier concluded by saying that he believed the efforts of his government would help advance a peace deal with the Palestinians that would create a two-state solution, but he warned that to achieve this, "the State of Israel will need to make unprecedented dramatic and painful concessions in order to reach peace."
At a memorial service for slain prime minister Yitzhak Rabin last November, Olmert elaborated on this vision when he said that these concessions would include Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem and a "return to a 1967 Israel with certain amendments."
In January, Olmert reportedly outlined to US Middle East envoy George Mitchell the list of concessions Israel was willing to make, reportedly going even further than Barak's offer to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in 2000 to establish a state in 98 percent of the West Bank and all of the Gaza Strip.
The Palestinian negotiations were not the only topic Olmert mentioned at the cabinet meeting, as he summed up other events that had occurred since he took office in January 2006 - first as the acting prime minister when Ariel Sharon suffered a second stroke, and then as prime minister in May after new elections.
During this time, he said, Israel had conducted negotiations with Syria and been involved in two wars - one with Hizbullah along the northern border in the summer of 2006 and another one with Hamas along the southern border.
"The one in the North ended in an unprecedented achievement. The North is quiet. There is no firing. There is no threat. Many people are living quietly. The North is prospering," said Olmert.
Referring to the continual cross-border confrontation between Israel and Hamas, including Operation Cast Lead in December and January, Olmert said that this conflict "had yet to be finished."
Israel's military actions against Hamas, Olmert said, have "yet to reach full fruition vis-Ã -vis the achievements that we expected, but we reached significant, very significant achievements and restored the international awareness of the strength of the IDF and of the deterrent power of the State of Israel."