Olmert: Agreement with PA by end of 2008

British PM Gordon Brown says England a genuine friend of Israel; says PA economy is key to peace.

brown peres 224.88 (photo credit: Pool/Flash 90)
brown peres 224.88
(photo credit: Pool/Flash 90)
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Sunday he believes an agreement between the Palestinian Authority and Israel can be finalized by the end of the year. Olmert made his comments during a press conference with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who is currently in Israel for the first time since taking office. Brown told reporters that Britain will always be a genuine friend of Israel, and guaranteed that the Jewish State's security is of top concern for the United Kingdom. He added that he understood the obstacles [in the region], but "also the opportunities" that lie ahead. Earlier in the day, Brown said that economics are a necessary element of any future Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, and promised more money to jump-start the fledgling Palestinian economy. "We need to underpin any political breakthrough with economic support," Brown said in remarks at the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem last night. "There is an economic road map to peace as well as a political road map," he added. Also Sunday, the British premier slammed continued Israeli settlement building in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, and urged Israel to stop. "I think the whole European Union is very clear on this matter: We want to see a freeze on settlements," Brown said at an afternoon news conference with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem. "Settlement expansion has made peace harder to achieve. It erodes trust, it heightens Palestinian suffering, it makes the compromises Israel needs to make for peace more difficult." Prime Minister Ehud Olmert acknowledged that Israel disagrees with the Palestinians and Britain over the issue of settlements, but said that Israeli construction "should not stand in the way" of a peace agreement with the Palestinians, which he reiterated was "closer than ever before." "I tried to explain the restraints we put on ourselves, and the need to keep up with the pace of life on the other hand," Olmert said. Olmert praised Brown for his proposals to build the foundation for economic and business cooperation between Israel and the Palestinians in an effort to promote the peace process. "Alongside the political moves... we must build an economic infrastructure rapidly to move the peace process in the right direction," Olmert said in an address to the UK-Israel Business Conference. Brown heaped praise on Olmert - who is facing a burgeoning corruption probe which is likely to oust him from power - for his "courage and resilience" in pushing the peace process forward, and said that Israelis and Palestinians were facing a "momentous" time in negotiations which they should seize. "I understand the obstacles, but I also understand the great opportunities," Brown said. In contrast to his harsh criticism of Israel's settlement policy during his West Bank tour, Brown was all praise for Israel during his public appearances in Jerusalem. "We share not just great historical connections and trade possibilities, [but] a belief in liberty, opportunity, enterprise and democracy," he said. Brown recounted how his father, a minister, used to come to Israel twice a year for nearly three decades and then used to show slides of his trip. He recalled how the family used to receive a box of Jaffa oranges once a year. A former finance minister, Brown noted that bilateral trade between the two countries had grown 40 percent over the last decade, and is now worth over £2.3 billion. In his meeting with Abbas, Brown said that Britain would donate $60 million on top of $500m. the British government has pledged to the Palestinians over the next three years. He proposed job creation by building industrial parks, promoting small businesses and putting up desperately needed housing. On Sunday morning Brown visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem, and laid a wreath next to the eternal flame. On Monday, he is scheduled to address the Knesset.