Olmert Abbas 224.88.
(photo credit: AP [file])
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert would be willing to withdraw from a vast amount of territory in Judea and Samaria in return for genuine peace in a final-status agreement with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Olmert told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Monday.
Olmert conditioned the withdrawal on the Palestinians keeping all their commitments in the road map, which would be implemented without skipping its stages.
The prime minister said this could take time, but his office vigorously denied an Israel Radio report that Olmert said it could take 20 to 30 years.
"I am not talking about withdrawing from all of the territories but rather from specific territories that will be under Palestinian control," Olmert told the committee. "The withdrawal will not take place in a way that will abandon Israeli security. I won't enter the argument of when it will take place but the road map will be part of any agreement."
Olmert tried to lower expectations for the November summit in Washington, repeatedly calling on MKs not to call the event a "peace conference." He referred to it instead as a "short international meeting intended to give international encouragement to the process that we initiated with the Palestinians."
The goal of the summit, according to Olmert, is to increase support for Abbas on the Palestinian street and deepen Israel's ties with moderate Arab countries.
"We don't need to build exaggerated expectations that tomorrow there will be an accord," Olmert said. "But statements said in an international forum by a man perceived as the leader of the Palestinian people have a certain weight. It's not an alternative to implementation but it could lead to a process. If we don't strengthen the moderates now, there could be an endless cycle of violence."
Olmert and Abbas will meet again next week to finalize the guidelines for a joint declaration that would be delivered at the White House.
Following the meeting, Israeli and Palestinian teams will begin the work of hammering out the final details.
"The joint statement is not an agreement or similar to an agreement," Olmert cautioned. "It won't bring about a fundamental change in the diplomatic process. But it is an attempt to more clearly define expectations on fundamentals that will be the basis for future negotiations."
Opposition MKs blasted Olmert, telling him that he had already gone too far in his talks with Abbas by agreeing to release Palestinian terrorists from Israeli jails and by discussing territorial concessions in Jerusalem.
"You don't have a mandate from the Jewish people to make these concessions," Likud MK Silvan Shalom told the prime minister. Shalom said that in order to implement a West Bank withdrawal, Olmert would need either a referendum or new elections.
Referring to the planned release of 90 Palestinian security prisoners approved by the cabinet on Sunday, National Union MK Zvi Hendel told Olmert that he would accept a decision to release terrorists if [Olmert] would "promise to resign the minute one of the prisoners freed attacked a Jew."
Opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu told Olmert that he was "the only one who genuinely thinks that [Abbas] is a partner who can keep Israel secure." He asked him if he had discussed dividing Jerusalem and accepting Palestinian refugees in his talks with Abbas.
In his response, the prime minister referred indirectly to Netanyahu's confirmation last week of Israeli involvement in an alleged air strike in Syria three weeks ago. "Yes, we have discussed those issues, but I won't give details, because this is a public meeting," Olmert said.
The prime minister said that Israel was concerned by recent events in Lebanon, particularly violent attacks, such as last Wednesday's car bombing attack that killed anti-Syrian lawmaker Antoine Ghanem and left six others dead.
Turning to the current situation between Israel and Syria, Olmert said that neither side wanted a violent conflict, and that the prevailing tension would soon dissipate. Olmert said, however, that at the moment, both Israel and Syria were "on their guard." "We see their forces [deployed], and they see ours," Olmert said. "I think they are not interested in a violent conflagration and neither are we."