Olmert bids to enlist French support

PM will continue efforts to draft int'l support for realignment.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will continue his efforts to draft international support for his West Bank realignment plan in Paris meetings on Wednesday with French President Jacques Chirac and Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin. After Olmert succeeded in obtaining praise for the plan from US President George W. Bush in Washington last month and a more tepid response from British Prime Minister Tony Blair on Monday, the focus will be on Chirac when he makes a statement ahead of their meeting at the Palais de l'Elysees. "I believe that Chirac will become a partner in this process," Olmert told British Jewish leaders in London on Monday. "I'll do everything in my power to convince him to go along with it and to build a friendly relationship." Olmert used a meeting with British parliamentarians on Tuesday morning to clarify statements he made the day before about being willing to withdraw from 90 percent of the West Bank and then negotiate the fate of the rest of the remaining 10%. "Israel would never agree to pull out of all of the West Bank to pre-1967 borders because those borders are indefensible," Olmert told the parliament members. Other issues expected to dominate the talks are the rocket attacks on Sderot and the incidents in the Gaza Strip that have followed. The French Foreign Ministry issued a statement after Friday's incident "deploring the Israeli bombing on a beach in the Gaza Strip whose disproportionate character cost the lives of several civilians and injured many others." Officials at Israel's embassy in Paris said that Israel would not ask the French for an apology even after Defense Minister Amir Peretz presented proof that Israel was not behind the incident. They said that Olmert would explain Friday's incident and the IAF strike Tuesday on a car carrying Katyusha rockets, which killed nine Palestinian civilians, including two schoolchildren. "We have to explain our reality of constant rocket attacks on our heads and how the IDF is responding while still minimizing civilian casualties" even though the Palestinians were doing the opposite, an embassy spokesman said. "We cry with them about every civilian that is killed but we still have to defend ourselves." Olmert was received at Paris's Orly Airport on Tuesday night by a delegation from the French Republican Guard, the same way former prime minister Ariel Sharon was received when he came to Paris in July on his last trip abroad as prime minister. Besides Chirac and de Villepin, Olmert is to meet on Wednesday with Senate Speaker Christian Poncelet and on Thursday with Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy and Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy. Olmert is also to participate in the inauguration of the Alley of the Righteous Gentiles at the Paris Holocaust Memorial with de Villepin and the mayor of Paris. Before departing from London, he met with British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett and Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown. Beckett said she was greatly concerned by the recent violence in the Gaza Strip and and said the casualties were completely unacceptable. "We call on the Israeli government to ensure that any military actions are proportional and ensure that civilians, particularly children, are not harmed," Beckett said. "And we call for an end to rocket fire from the Gaza Strip on Israeli targets. We support Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's efforts to restore order, using legally constituted security forces." In the meeting with British parliamentarians, Olmert said he was prepared to negotiate an agreement with any Palestinian government that renounced terrorism, recognized Israel and stood by previous agreements between the two sides. "If these three conditions are met, it is entirely irrelevant who the [Palestinian] government is," Olmert said. "If Hamas entirely accepts these conditions, we don't rule out anyone." But then he turned to the parliament members and asked rhetorically "Do you think these guys [Hamas] will be ready in our lifetime to engage in a serious political dialogue?" Regarding realignment, Olmert told the lawmakers: "There was no 'Zionist' reasoning here, as you might be inclined to argue. There is an honest, real will on my part to give a lot and receive little in return. This will also be done following an honest, real effort to exhaust the diplomatic process."