(photo credit: AP/ GPO)
Eagerly seeking to restart long-stalled peace talks, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Wednesday that he plans to hold negotiations with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas on the formation of a future Palestinian state.
"There is a chance in the near future that contacts with the Palestinians will develop into talks which will concretely deal with the establishment of a Palestinian state," Olmert said in brief remarks to the press following a working lunch meeting with President Shimon Peres.
Olmert said there was no timetable for the negotiations, but called his talks with Abbas "serious" and "very deep."
Olmert, who has been struggling to find a new political horizon following massive public dissatisfaction with his leadership role in last year's inconclusive Second Lebanon War, and his pre-election proposal of unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank, said he was determined to jumpstart a political process with the Palestinians.
"I am not saying that there are not risks and that the problems have ended, but I want a political process with all my strength," Olmert said.
His remarks came hours after a historic visit by the foreign ministers of Egypt and Jordan as envoys of the Arab League.
Flanked by Peres, Olmert noted that he had asked Peres to be involved at a "maximum" level on diplomatic issues, adding that the president's intervention in affairs of state did not "deter" him but "excited" him.
"Peres is one of the most important politicians in the world," Olmert said.
For his part, Peres heaped praise on both the Israeli and Palestinian leaders, saying that both Olmert and Abbas were successfully dealing with "not insignificant" difficulties despite their weakened statuses as statesmen.
"All told, we see eye to eye regarding the problems facing the State of Israel and her mission," Peres said.
He added that even among the eternally divisive Israeli public, political differences had greatly narrowed, and that there was a large general consensus in the public.