Olmert lays convergence groundwork

Tells cabinet that there is no Palestinian partner for negotiations.

By
April 24, 2006 00:53

 
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Interim Prime Minister Ehud Olmert sent out strong signals in Sunday's cabinet meeting that he will be swift to draw Israel's border in the West Bank, and that he was serious when he said before the election that he wouldn't "wait forever" for the Palestinians. Olmert, in his pre-election rhetoric, said his "convergence plan" would be implemented if, after a "reasonable period of time" it became clear there was no partner on the Palestinian side. On Sunday he said it was already clear there was no Palestinian partner. Olmert said that following Hamas's justification of last week's suicide attack in Tel Aviv, it was important "that the diplomatic community, foreign ministries and government ministries around the world absorb the fact that there is no partner here with whom it is possible to talk." He said that there had been strong condemnations of Hamas's reactions to the attack from around the world, both from governments and in the international media. He pointed to editorials that appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post and even in Britain's Guardian, which he characterized "as Left as can be," that praised "the Israeli position and essentially said it has been proven that Israel does not have a partner and that this will necessarily lead to unilateral Israeli steps." In an interview with The Jerusalem Post before the election, Olmert - in explaining his plan to withdraw from most of the West Bank while keeping a few settlement blocs - said Israel would wait to see if a Hamas-led Palestinian government would accept the international community's three conditions for receiving legitimacy: recognizing Israel, renouncing terror and accepting previous agreements. "We will wait, but I don't intend to wait forever," he said at the time. "If after a reasonable time passes it becomes clear that the PA is not willing to accept these principles, we will need to begin to act." His words in Sunday's cabinet meeting, as well as the messages he has given potential coalition partners over the last few weeks, indicate that in his mind, a reasonable time has already passed. Senior diplomatic officials said Olmert's telescoping his plan's time frame was connected with the US election timetable and a desire to get his withdrawal plan off the ground while US President George W. Bush, whose term expires in January 2009, was still in office. One official said Olmert was in a hurry to go to Washington and get Bush to reiterate the same commitments he gave then-prime minister Ariel Sharon in 2004 before he brought his disengagement plan to the cabinet. "Olmert is a new prime minister, and he wants to hear these commitments again," the official said, noting they would be as valuable domestically for Olmert to market his convergence plan as they were for Sharon to sell disengagement from Gaza. Bush's statement spelled out that the US would support Israel's position that the Palestinian refugees should return to a future Palestinian state, rather than to Israel; that it would be "unrealistic" to expect a full Israeli withdrawal to the Green Line; and that the US was committed to Israel's security, "including secure, defensible borders, and to preserve and strengthen Israel's capability to deter and defend itself, by itself, against any threat or possible combination of threats." This last commitment, the official said, was especially important for Jerusalem to hear now, as Teheran continues to publicly threaten to destroy Israel. Olmert referred to the Iranian nuclear threat in Sunday's cabinet meeting, but urged the ministers to keep a low profile and to neither issue threats against Iran or issue warnings. He said Israel should leave this to others who are leading the international campaign to stop Teheran's nuclear march. Olmert said Iran posed an potential existential threat to Israel. He said the issue was at the top of Israel's agenda and that the country was preparing for all scenarios. At the same time, he repeated what he has said numerous times in the past: "This is not only a threat to Israel," but also to Europe, the US and all of Western civilization. As such, Olmert said, it would be an error for Israel to place itself at the head of the world campaign against Iran. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni discussed, in her briefing to the cabinet, whether the UN Security Council was likely to impose meaningful sanctions on Iran, saying that the Russians and Chinese were opposed to such measures. Russia, Livni said, was continuing independent contacts with Iran in an effort to gain stature as a leading, independent player on the international stage. Turning to the Palestinians, Livni said that the international community remained committed to the three conditions it has set for granting the Hamas-led PA legitimacy. She warned, however, that it would become more difficult to stand firm on these principles if the impression was created of a humanitarian crisis inside the Palestinian Authority. Livni said the recent Hamas cabinet decision to create a new security force and to appoint wanted terrorist Jamal Abu Samhadana as its head had further eroded the PA's position in the international community. Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz told the cabinet that the recent terror attack in Tel Aviv, as well as the number of thwarted attacks, demonstrated that Israel was in the midst of a "growing terror wave." He said there were currently some 70 intelligence warnings of terrorist attacks, including 15 "localized alerts," a significant increase from February. At the same time, Mofaz said that the security forces have had a number of successes, and that since the beginning of the year they have thwarted 10 suicide attacks and arrested more than 160 terrorist suspects. Mofaz said that while there was a significant decrease in the number of Kassam rocket attacks from Gaza last week - 16 compared to 33 the week before - on Friday the Palestinians tried to launch a Katyusha missile toward Israel. This was the second time they tried to launch a Katyusha, the first time being on Election Day, March 28. Mofaz said that Israel held the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority responsible for the increase in terrorist attacks and the overall deterioration in the security situation. Mofaz briefly discussed Egypt's relationship with the PA, saying that Cairo was trying to moderate Hamas's hard-line positions.

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