Olmert: I can offer Abbas 'a lot'

Olmert says he is prepared to meet PA chairman "any time, any place."

Olmert sky 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
Olmert sky 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
Three days ahead of his trip to Washington D.C., Prime Minister Ehud Olmert pledged on Thursday night to make substantive offers to Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. "I am ready day and night, I am ready anytime, any place, without preconditions to sit down and talk. He [Abbas] will be surprised how far we are prepared to go," Olmert said in a public interview with Sky's Adam Boulton at the Conference for Export and International Cooperation in Tel Aviv. "I can offer him a lot," he added, but did not elaborate. The two leaders have not met officially since Olmert took office last spring. Speaking later to the Kadima Council at the party's Petah Tikva headquarters, Olmert said that when he meets with President George W. Bush on Monday, the pair would talk about ways to move the stalled peace process forward. "We will talk to the president and I am sure I will reach a full understanding," said Olmert. "No government loves us and supports us more than George W. Bush." Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni added at that same event that "a stalemate was not and will not be the policy of the government. We can't ignore what is going on in the PA, but we can't use it as an excuse for ruling out any diplomatic steps." She said that while she did not expect negotiations on a permanent solution to start immediately, she did believe that it was possible to work now toward the principle of two states for two peoples. "We need to create a diplomatic package little by little, carefully and quietly to strengthen Abu Mazen and add content to the diplomatic process," said Livni. As part of the initial steps to jump-start the diplomatic process, Olmert said he would do everything possible to support efforts now under way in the Palestinian Authority to create a government of technocrats that could met the three demands of the international community of recognizing Israel, stopping terror and accepting past diplomatic agreements. "We will make every effort, and offer unique incentives to help convince the Palestinians to support leaders that accept the demands of the quartet and will bring home the kidnapped soldiers," said Olmert. Speaking earlier with Sky News, Olmert said he would be ready to release many prisoners in exchange for the release of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit on two conditions: If Hamas, which kidnapped Shalit last June, were to hand the soldier over to Abbas and if Abbas were to be involved in the negotiations for Shalit's release. "I will not release even one of the prisoners to Hamas, I am not prepared to reward them for their extremism. But to Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas], I am ready to release many," said Olmert. "The Palestinians do not know how many prisoners could have been released, how many of their kids could have been home," he added. Olmert said that to date a meeting with Abbas had been impossible to arrange, because Abbas did not want to talk. "He is preoccupied by divisions within the Palestinian community, with the pressure of these hardliners from Hamas. He doesn't have the power to overrule them and to come forward," said Olmert. He added that Abbas was his preferred partner in this process not because he was a "patriot of Israel" but because he was decent, he could be trusted and he was against terror. "I have a lot of respect for Abu Mazen," said Olmert. Still in speaking to his party, Olmert said, "We are disappointed with the Palestinians for not knowing how to take advantage of the opportunity of disengagement but as angry as we are, we cannot avoid the need to deal with the Palestinian problem." In his interview with Sky News, he added that he was proud to be one of the initiators of the 2005 withdrawal from Gaza. "I am still proud of it because it was an essential step forward in creating a new reality. In spite of this, they didn't stop shooting at us. "What else do you need to do in order to convince them that it is time to put aside and to change the priorities and to get to the table?" asked Olmert. The Sky reporter asked him if such negotiations weren't made more difficult by the incident Wednesday in which IDF artillery accidentally killed 19 civilians. Wasn't that a "watershed moment" because it hardened Palestinian attitudes against Israel, the reporter asked. "How much harder can it be?" asked Olmert. "Let's be realistic." Still, both in the Sky interview and in speaking with his party, Olmert apologized for the incident, which he explained was caused by a technical error. The IDF had aimed for an orange grove from which shots had been fired only seconds before, but the artillery shell went in another direction, said Olmert. He spoke as the United Nations Security Council in New York opened a public session to discuss the incident. In defending the move, Olmert said that as painful and as disturbing as it was to see pictures of the carnage from the Gaza incident, military operations would continue as long as Palestinians continued to launch rockets into Israel. "We will take precautions to avoid unnecessary mistakes, but I can not promise that it won't happen again," said Olmert. "What do the residents of Gaza think? That we will accept rockets on Sderot and Ashkelon without responding? There is nothing we want more than quiet. We left Gaza in a painful process that left Israeli society wounded. From the moment we left, Kassams returned," said Olmert. Discussing Lebanon, Olmert said that he did not believe Israel lost the war it fought with Hizbullah over the summer. "Just ask [Hizbullah leader Hassan] Nasrallah. Hizbullah has lost the appetite to fight against Israel for many years to come and those who don't believe it can ask Nasrallah," said Olmert. Regarding Syrian President Bashar Assad's call for negotiations with Israel, Olmert said that he too would be ready to negotiate a deal. He said Assad knew what his terms were, adding he would not meet with Assad as long as Syria was allied with Iran, which calls for the destruction of Israel. Sharon Wrobel contributed to this report.