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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert sent an olive branch to Shas and Israel Beiteinu on Monday when he pledged in a speech opening the Knesset's winter session not to withdraw from any West Bank land unless Palestinian terrorism is stopped.
Olmert, who met with Israel Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman immediately after the speech, also made a point of emphasizing Lieberman's pet issue of electoral reform in his address. He made an effort in the speech to separate between his ongoing talks with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and actual concessions that may only be made in the distant future.
"The road to an agreement is still far and it is rife with pitfalls and difficulties," Olmert said. "Terror from Gaza continues to run rampant, and as I said, we have no intention of accepting it. The terror organizations remain active in Judea and Samaria, and there will be no Israeli withdrawal whatsoever before it is eradicated there as well."
Olmert compared himself to former prime minister Menachem Begin, praising his decision to withdraw from the Sinai peninsula in return for a peace agreement. Likud MKs heckled at Olmert that he himself voted against the peace agreement with Egypt in the Knesset.
In a statement seen by the opposition as referring to alleged plans to divide Jerusalem, Olmert spoke about the need for both Israelis and Palestinians to give up their dreams.
"The peace process requires determination to make brave, unavoidable decisions, which involve relinquishing the full realization of the dreams that fed our national ethos for many years," Olmert said.
"Nothing is easier than to cling on to these dreams, and the price of awakening from them can be heavy for all of us. The Palestinians will also have to confront the need to relinquish the fulfillment of some of their dreams in order to create with us a reality that might not be ideal, and might not be perfect, but one that will give us all stability, security, happiness and peace." Laying out his agenda for the coming year, Olmert said he planned to make every effort to pursue peace with Abbas, with whom he said he had built an atmosphere of personal trust.
"The current Palestinian leadership is not a terrorist leadership," Olmert said. "President Abbas and Prime Minister Salaam Fayad are committed to all the agreements signed with Israel, and I believe that they want to move ahead together with us on a route that will bring about a change in the reality of relations between us and them."
Olmert warned that the Right's opposition to his diplomatic steps were a recipe for continued bloodshed. But the political opponent he criticized most bluntly was Labor chairman Ehud Barak.
"The attempts made during different times by different leaders under different political circumstances often frustrate the will to move forward," Olmert said. "The sense of failure, experienced by many of those who tried to take large, courageous steps forward, often places constraints on their ability to maneuver today."
Earlier Monday, during a Kadima faction meeting, Olmert blamed Barak for the delay in dealing with rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip on the South, saying: "We are waiting for the defense minister's proposal on stopping Kassams." The prime minister pledged that in the six-month winter session of the Knesset, the state budget would be passed, electoral reforms would be made and a constitution would be presented.
"Sixty years and no constitution," he lamented. "Efforts will be made for the constitution to be written with broad agreement." He said the electoral reforms "would not be a revolution, but will improve the system."
"We believe the governmental system does not guarantee the stability we need in our democratic system, so it has to be improved, and we will make a big effort to make the necessary changes," he added.
Olmert hinted at the rebels in his faction when he said that "we can't allow ourselves the privilege of individual agendas at the expense of priorities that were set by the government and the party, which were the basis of our establishment." MK Marina Solodkin later abstained in a vote on Olmert's statement to the Knesset, which passed by a wide margin.
Opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu used his speech to attack Olmert, Barak, Shas and Israel Beiteinu. He read a series of overly optimistic quotes from Olmert before disengagement from Gaza and Barak before he withdrew from Lebanon.
"I ask my friends in Shas and Israel Beiteinu - what are you doing in this government?" Netanyahu said. "Do you agree with Hamas controlling neighborhoods in Jerusalem and the hilltops overlooking Kfar Saba, Ra'anana, and Tel Aviv?" Netanyahu lashed out at Olmert's diplomatic policies, saying that they would eventually lead to an Iranian terrorist presence in Jerusalem that would make the city unlivable.
"The unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon created an Iranian base - from which Israel is being attacked - in the North, and the unilateral pullout from Gaza created a second Iranian base in Gaza, 'Hamastan,'" Netanyahu said. "And now the government is planning a third withdrawal - from Judea and Samaria - that will lead to a third Iranian base, this time in the center of the country."