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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told the Knesset at the opening of its Winter Session on Monday that the current Palestinian leadership wants to move forward toward peace with Israel and that he would not use excuses to stall peace talks.
Laying out his agenda for the coming year, Olmert said he planned to make every effort to pursue peace with the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
"The current Palestinian leadership is not a terrorist leadership. 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," he said.
"I want to serve notice here, in the most resolute way possible, that I do not intend to look for excuses to block a diplomatic process," he said, in a speech occasionally interrupted by hisses from opposition MKs.
Olmert said he has developed a good working relationship with Abbas during recent meetings. Olmert's critics have complained that Abbas is too weak to dismantle armed Palestinian groups or implement a future peace deal.
"An atmosphere of personal trust has been created," Olmert said. "I feel that there is something to talk about, and it's in our interest to talk."
Olmert said Israel would have to give up on some of its deeply held desires - an apparent reference to holding on to the West Bank - and added that the Palestinians "will have to deal with the need to concede part of their dreams in order to build with us a realistic, if not ideal, if not perfect" future of peace and security.
Earlier on Monday, during a Kadima faction meeting, Olmert said that he would make particular efforts to protect the South from the threat of rockets, saying: "We are waiting for the defense minister's proposal on stopping Kassams."
The prime minister added that a constitution would be presented this term.
"Sixty years and no constitution," he lamented. "Efforts will be made for the constitution to be written with broad agreement."
He also said that instead of the budget coming at the end of the session, it would be worked on by the MKs "in the proper time."
Olmert also spoke of changes to the electoral system. "There will not be a revolution, but we will improve the system," he said. "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. It can be done in this session."
The prime minister also hinted at expected opposition 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."
During the meeting, MK Eli Aflalo was formally approved as faction chairman.
Meanwhile, in a speech to the Labor faction, Labor Chairman Ehud Barak said that he would give the "utmost importance to talks between Israel and the Palestinians."
"Israel is very strong and will look for every way to make peace with its neighbors," he said.
Barak added that he was in favor of "political horizons" and of bolstering Abbas. But the Labor chairman emphasized that Israel must protect its interests - "security and others" - during peace talks.
Barak expressed his desire to see the Annapolis conference succeed, adding: "We have to consider the risks we'd face if there is no peace process."
But Barak continued by saying that Israel must also consider the risks of striking a deal with someone who cannot deliver, namely Hamas.
"In the Middle East one must keep one hand on the trigger while the other is outstretched for peace," said the defense minister.