Olmert: Right sees only blood, fire and smoke

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert defended this week's concessions to Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and lashed out at right-wing parties on Monday for "seeing only blood, fire and smoke" and not having their own diplomatic plan. Speaking to the Kadima faction in the Knesset, Olmert said Kadima was different from the parties on the Right because it was willing to take a risk to achieve diplomatic progress. He added that he hoped to have more meetings soon with Abbas. "[Meeting Abbas] doesn't guarantee peace, it doesn't guarantee a cease-fire and it doesn't guarantee the beginning of deliberations but it does open a diplomatic horizon," he said. Olmert's comments were aimed at the Likud and at Israel Beiteinu, whose chairman Avigdor Lieberman walked out of Sunday's cabinet vote allocating $100 million to Abbas, which represents a portion of the PA tax funds Israel has withheld since Hamas became the dominant party in the government last January. Opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu responded in a meeting of the Likud faction that Olmert's policies had already brought about smoke and fire and his policy of restraint would lead to more bloodshed. Likud MKs slammed Olmert for his willingness to remove roadblocks in the West Bank, transfer money to Abbas and release Palestinian prisoners before Cpl. Gilad Shalit, who was kidnapped by Hamas in June, returns to his family. Emily Amrusi, a spokeswoman for the Council of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip predicted that the removal of 27 roadblocks and the easing of security measures at 16 other larger checkpoints would only lead to one thing: "the killing of Israelis." Such measures, she said, would only make it easier for a suicide bomber to enter Israel. But activists from the left-wing NGO group Machsom Watch, which monitors the treatment of Palestinians at the checkpoints, said that the steps are simply a drop in the ocean when it comes to easing conditions for the Palestinians and would not harm the security of Israelis. Machsom Watch activist Netta Ephroni said that the 27 roadblocks were just a fraction of the 400 which exist. These 27 roadblocks were not set up on roads leading into Israel; they existed purely to monitor the movement of Palestinians from one area in the territories to another. In many cases they were set up next to Palestinian villages and caused hours of delay for residents who were trying to get to and from their homes, Ephroni said. With respect to the easing of security at the larger checkpoints, activist Sarah Klachko said it was possible to take steps to ease the flow of traffic without harming the safety of Israelis. "No one is asking them to stop taking security measures," but rather what is needed is a more balanced and prudent approach. MK Otniel Schneller of Kadima, who himself lives in Judea and Samaria, said that if it proved necessary, it would be easy to restore the roadblocks and increase security measures. There was also a danger in not taking steps to shore up a moderate Palestinian leader such as Abbas, he said. It's in Israel's best interest for him to remain as a leader, Schneller said. To keep the possibility of a peace process alive one has to have someone to negotiate with, said Schneller. That's particularly true when one considers the larger regional conflict that includes the pending nuclear threat from Iran, Schneller added. Israel has to show the Palestinians that under Abbas the economic situation can improve and the option of "a dialogue is still open," Schneller said. That's particularly true when one considers the larger regional conflict that includes the pending nuclear threat from Iran, he added. The Iranian threat is larger than one of terror and instead poses an existential threat to the country, Schneller said.. But Likud MK Yuval Steinitz wanted to know when Kadima and Olmert in particular had concluded that Abbas was a partner for peace. The rationale for carrying out the withdrawal from Gaza, a move that Olmert supported, was the premise that Abbas was not such a partner, argued Steinitz. He blamed Abbas for the fact that Israel now has to contend with a Hamas- led government, which supports terror and fails to recognize Israel's existence. Hamas entered the government because Abbas allowed them to run in the election, said Steinitz. Moves to ease restrictions such as transferring the $100 million in withheld Palestinian tax funds, he predicted, would shore up Hamas and not Abbas.