"At the top of the Palestinian leadership stand leaders committed to agreements signed in past years ... this is an opportunity and we need to take it," said Prime Minister Ehud Olmert during a speech at the Saban Forum in Jerusalem Sunday evening.
The prime minister reiterated his vision for peace ahead of the upcoming peace conference scheduled to take place at Annapolis, Maryland.
Opening with a reference to the Gregorian anniversary of Yitzhak Rabin's murder, the prime minister said: "Rabin calculated both the chances and the risks, this is his heritage - this is the heritage to which I am obligated."
Olmert then mentioned his predecessor and founder of Kadima, Ariel Sharon. "The disengagement [from Gaza, with Sharon at the helm] was not an isolated incident. Arik [Sharon] was always thinking of a way to move the process forward and implement the road map. To this heritage, too, I am obligated with all my heart."
"I am obligated to the vision of two states, the Jewish state of Israel and a Palestinian state for the Palestinian people - there will be no negotiations over this vision, there will be no haggling over this basic destination, so succinctly phrased by US President George W. Bush: Two countries for two peoples.
"We will not negotiate Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state, just as we will not try to haggle over the Palestinians' right to a state of their own. These are basic tenets which are a sine qua non of the process," Olmert said.
Turning to the road map, Olmert emphasized the responsibility and accountability of both sides. "The road map demands a series of moves on Israel's side. These, like the obligations of the Palestinians, have not been carried out. Some of these obligations and demands are not convenient for us. But I have no intention of running away from them.
"Annapolis will not be where negotiations take place, but certainly where they begin ... and I promise: Israel will be at Annapolis, careful, calculated, but with a genuine will to extend a hand of peace," Olmert said. "I know all the excuses why not [to hang hopes on Annapolis], but feel with all my heart that the time has come." The prime minister expressed hope that some tangible achievement might be made "even before the end of Bush's term."
Olmert finished his speech saying "this is the hour of will; I am excited in my opportunity to bring about change."
Earlier at the forum, Quartet Envoy Tony Blair said that while the most important reason to settle the conflict was for the sake of Israelis and Palestinians the strategic importance of the dispute in the world was "vast and profound."
"This dispute has not caused the extremism and settling it will not in itself stop it," he said. "But, long ago, I began to look at this region not as a series of disconnected little tableaux of issues and challenges, but as one big picture. And today that picture spreads across not just the region, but the world."
He said that But the terrorism was essentially the most ugly and outward manifestation of something deeper. "The essence is the struggle going on inside Islam: either to modernize and embrace today's world; or retreat in the face of it into reactionary old-fashioned defiance, in which the West and all its allies, including for these purposes Israel, is seen as the enemy."
Blair said that Iran had decided to put itself at the head of this extreme and misguided view of Islam. "Ask yourself: do they want a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian question or not? If the answer is no, it can give some kind of indication as to why it is so important there is one."
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