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Israel looks "very favorably" at the "active role" Saudi Arabia is playing in the Middle East peace process, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told Time magazine on Thursday, adding that [Saudi] King Abdullah VI would be "very surprised" to hear his opinion of the Saudi peace plan.
Olmert called the 2002 Saudi initiative, recently revived by the Arab Quartet, a "very interesting approach." The prime minister praised the document, saying it reflected a "state of mind" that rejected a violent approach to solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and says explicitly that Arab nations should ultimately recognize Israel's right to exist.
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The Mecca Accords signed last month between Hamas and Fatah, Olmert said, failed to accept this principle, as well as the Quartet's two other conditions for legitimizing the Palestinian Authority government: renouncing terror and honoring existing agreements with Israel.
"The Haniyeh government is a big victory for Hamas," he said.
The prime minister said that he shared US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's desire to advance the regional peace process, and reiterated Israel's position that any Palestinian Authority government must abide by the Quartet's demands.
As far as concessions by Israel, Olmert said that he had not "ruled out" future withdrawals from the West Bank.
When asked why Israel has not, thus far, responded to Syrian President Bashar Assad's diplomatic overtures, Olmert explained that he had not been involved in the reported "low-level" contacts with Syria.
"I wouldn't say no [to talks with Syria]," the prime minister continued. However, Olmert said, Israel must be sure that its goals and Syria's for talks were generally compatible, so that any negotiations could forward rather than "getting stuck" at the beginning.
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