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Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert stayed true to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's diplomatic line Tuesday, pledging his allegiance to the road map. But, in his first diplomatic comments since filling in for the ailing Sharon, he also used phraseology Sharon rarely employed - a willingness to reach a "final status agreement."
"The government's policy of the last year will continue," Olmert said at a press conference after meeting President Moshe Katsav. "I hope that as a result of the elections in the Palestinian Authority, and as a result of the elections here, I can enter negotiations with Abu Mazen [Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas], depending on their fulfilling their commitments, and we can reach a final status agreement."
At the same time, Olmert said it would be a "mistake" to free Abbas from commitments he took upon himself and "not to demand that he [Abbas] fight terrorism and disarm the [terrorist] organizations." He also said, when asked whether there would be another unilateral disengagement, that he was committed to the road map.
The Likud campaign reacted angrily to Olmert's statement, saying that he was just acting prime minister. "Olmert's avoidance of giving a clear answer on whether he would withdraw unilaterally from Judea and Samarea, after saying any times that he supported such a move, proves that he is trying to trick the public with evasive words, to hide his true intention of withdrawing to close to the 1967 lines without receiving anything in return."
The National Union condemned Olmert or saying that he would be willing to restart negotiations with the Palestinians.
"A Leftist cat has come out of the Kadima bag," A National Union spokesman said. "Olmert has
positioned himself to the left of Yossi Beilin. He is not insisting that terrorist orgainzations be dismantled before negotiations begin, and it is clear that he intends to continue surrendering to terror and expelling Jews from their homes."
Olmert repeated these messages during the day during separate meetings with visiting Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Moratinos and EU Commissioner for External Relations and European Neighborhood Policy Benita Ferrero-Waldner.
During a Jerusalem press conference, Ferrero-Waldner - taking issue with the characterization that the EU continued to "pump money" into the PA despite growing anarchy in the Gaza Strip - revealed that the EU has upheld a transfer of some 35 million euros to the PA until they meet certain "benchmarks."
"We are not only pumping money into the Palestinians without asking for very clear benchmarks," she said, adding that the transfer of the money through the World Bank to the PA budget has been held up since November.
According to EU officials, 14 of the 18 benchmarks were not met, the most serious having to do with "wage containment" -- meaning more was paid in salaries than had been allocated - and financial monitoring and auditing.
Ferrero-Waldner did not give any indication of when the money would be paid, but reiterated that the EU has a "long term commitment to the Palestinians people that we would like to improve their living conditions,"
In addition to meeting Olmert, Ferrero-Waldner, in the region for two days to show support for the Palestinian elections, met with incoming Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, as well as with PA Foreign Minister Nasser Nasser al-Kidwa. She did not meet Abbas because he was in Kuwait attending the funeral of Kuwati Emir Sheikh Jaber Al-Ahmed Al-Sabah.
Olmert told Moratinos, during their meeting, that Israel would not compromise on the need for Hamas to disarm. "Hamas is a terrorist organization and must be treated as such," Olmert's office quoted him as saying. "It must disarm; on this issue there can be no compromise."
Olmert said that Abbas must deal with this issue immediately after the January 25 Palestinian elections.
Moratinos, according to Olmert's office, said that Hamas was the main enemy of those who seek peace, and ways must be found to defeat it. He said that this was European policy, and one that the EU would act upon.
During the meeting with Ferrero-Waldner, Olmert said that from Israel's point of view it did not matter whether Hamas was inside or outside a future PA government, the organization needed to be disarmed.
Regarding the prospect of Hamas's participation in a PA government, Ferrero-Waldner said the EU policy is that it would work with any government that "seeks peace by peaceful means."
She made clear that the EU has enshrined certain principles in its two key agreements with the PA: support for democracy, human rights, and the rule of law; as well as "a joint commitment for the peace process and road map."
"It is very clear that we will want those different principles to be absolutely accepted,' she said. "Should these principles clearly be breached then we would, of course, have to review the situation, but I can't speculate now about something that lies in the future and is highly sensitive."