Livni denies reported pullout deadline

Ramon: If talks don't resume by end of '06, Israel will set its own borders.

livni sits 298.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
livni sits 298.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Israel will give the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority until the end of the year to show it is willing to negotiate a final peace deal or will move unilaterally to draw the country's final borders by the end of 2008, Justice Minister Haim Ramon said Wednesday. Ramon was the first Israeli official to give the PA a deadline for the resumption of peace talks, considered highly unlikely given Hamas's resistance to moderating its views. "Through the end of this year, 2006, there will be honest attempts to talk to the other side," Ramon told Army Radio. "If it becomes clear by the end of the year that we really have no partner, and the international community is also convinced of this, then we will take our fate into our own hands and not leave our fate in the hands of our enemies." PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas has suggested that Israel bypass Hamas and negotiate directly with him, but Israel sees no point in holding negotiations with the weakened PA leader if Hamas refuses to alter its ways. Although it has ostensibly adhered to a 15-month old truce, Hamas has rejected international calls to recognize Israel, renounce violence and accept previously signed agreements, despite massive economic pressure. Olmert has repeatedly said that he preferred to negotiate with the PA, but is equally determined to act unilaterally to redraw Israel's final borders if Hamas refused to change its positions. "If we wait a month, two months, three months, half a year and we don't see any change, then most likely we are going to move forward even without an agreement, without negotiations, to define the borders which are acceptable for Israel," he told an international conference of mayors meeting in Jerusalem on Tuesday. Olmert originally said that he intended to complete his convergence plan, whereby Israel would pull out of scores of settlements in the West Bank, while strengthening the major settlement blocs, by 2010, although senior aides have since moved up the target date to the end of 2008 to coincide with the end of US President George W. Bush's second term. In his radio interview, Ramon suggested that the pullout could be completed within 18 to 24 months. "I would like to believe that by the end of 2008 we will be deployed on a line that will signify Israel's final borders and guarantee our existence here as a Jewish democratic state," he said. With as many as 70,000 Israelis slated to be evacuated, one of the proposals being considered is to carry out the withdrawal in stages in an attempt to blunt the opposition, officials said Wednesday. Disengagement Authority head Yonatan Bassi said that he did not think that Israeli society could withstand such a vast withdrawal carried out all at once. "This will be very hard for the State of Israel to swallow," he told Channel 2. Meanwhile, Olmert met Wednesday with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Defense Minister Amir Peretz to discuss the Iranian nuclear threat ahead of the his visit to the US at the end of the month. Olmert will stress in his meetings with the American administration the dangers of a nuclear Iran for the stability of the whole Middle East, as well as Iran's terror ties with Palestinian terror groups, including Hamas and Hizbullah, officials said. He will present the latest Israeli intelligence estimates about how far Iran is from acquiring nuclear weapons, amid increasing concern that time is running out for a diplomatic solution.