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Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said in his first policy statement Tuesday that he hopes to start working on a final peace deal with the Palestinians after Israel's March 28 elections, and hinted that Palestinians in Jerusalem might not always be under Israeli rule.
"I hope that after [the Jan. 25 Palestinian] elections results are in, and after our election results are in, that I will able to enter into negotiations with Abbas ... on a final status agreement between us and the Palestinians," Olmert said at a news conference.
A condition for resuming the talks, Olmert said, would be Abbas' disarming of Palestinian terror groups - the same condition Sharon had long set before embarking on his unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. The basis for the negotiations, Olmert said, would be the US-backed "road map" peace plan, which stalled shortly after its presentation more than two years ago because of Israeli settlement expansion and the Palestinian Authority's failure to disarm terrorists.
Olmert defended Israel's recent decision to let Palestinians in east Jerusalem vote in Palestinian parliament elections, rather than bar their participation because Hamas was running for office.
With regard to East Jerusalem Arabs voting in the Palestinian elections, Olmert noted that the vast majority of Israelis would not want them to vote in Israel's elections. It would be wrong he said, to deprive them of voting rights altogether. Since it is not desirable to give them voting rights in Israel, he saw nothing amiss with allowing them to vote for the government with which they would identify.
Equally important, added Olmert, is the fact that Israel does not want to give the Palestinians any cause to cancel the elections.
The Palestinians claim traditionally Arab east Jerusalem as the capital of a future state.
Olmert, who was mayor of Jerusalem for a decade beginning in 1993, has said in the past that Israel might have to relinquish some Arab neighborhoods in east Jerusalem.
He still opposes giving up all of the eastern sector, and in particular, the walled Old City, with its key holy sites of Judaism, Islam and Christianity, close associates have said.
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