PM, Abbas agree to hold official summit

Olmert: "I am ready to put everything on the line to achieve peace."

peres with abbas in petr (photo credit: AP)
peres with abbas in petr
(photo credit: AP)
In the first meeting since their respective governments were formed, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas pledged Thursday to hold a summit in the coming weeks in an effort to restart stalled peace negotiations. At a breakfast here hosted by Jordan's King Abdullah II, Olmert said he and Abbas had "embraced warmly" and decided to meet "in a matter of a few weeks." "This will not be the only meeting. We will meet more than just once," he said. "I am ready to put everything on the line, for one purpose, to achieve peace." Preparations for the meeting were under way and would intensify, with Israeli and PA officials working toward a fruitful summit, officials from both sides told The Jerusalem Post, although an exact time and place have not yet been finalized. Olmert told a gathering of Nobel laureates participating in the Petra Conference hosted by Abdullah and Elie Wiesel that the difficulty in reaching even a starting point of negotiations stemmed from the fact that the current PA government, run by Hamas, had not accepted the three demands placed by the international community as a prerequisite for talks: the cessation of violence and the disarming of terrorist groups, full implementation of previously signed agreements and a formal recognition of Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state. Countering Abbas's plea for an immediate resumption of negotiations, made at the conference a day earlier, Olmert said Abbas was not the PA prime minister and "the political power is not with him but with a government run by a terrorist organization condemned by the civilized world. I will fight terrorists, not negotiate with them. As long as political power rests with the terrorists, we cannot negotiate." He added that he was impressed with Abbas's Wednesday comments against the firing of Kassam rockets, but that they were not enough and more action was needed. "I will pull out from territories, not from every inch. I have no commitment to return back precisely to the boundaries described by Abu Mazen [Abbas]. This is precisely what we will negotiate and I will make compromises. There will be blocs of settlements that cannot be evacuated. And there will be many, many settlements vacated by Israel which would give the Palestinians territorial contiguity in which they can realize their dream of a Palestinian state," Olmert said. Earlier, Abbas aide Nabil Abu Rudeineh told the Post that Thursday's meeting was not the one the Palestinians were hoping for, as it was not the start of negotiations, "merely protocol, but we hope it will be a good start." Abu Rudeineh confirmed that preparation for a formal meeting between Olmert and Abbas was under way. "We need to prepare well for that meeting... to reach agreements as we did in Sharm e-Sheikh [February 2005] with [former prime minister Ariel] Sharon." Abu Rudeineh also said that although there were encouraging signs that Hamas was ready to adopt the prisoner's document, which implies de facto recognition of Israel, the referendum called by Abbas for July 26 would go ahead if Hamas did not change its position. Olmert, responding to a question from Nobel Laureate Robert Aumann on whether he would go ahead with his realignment plan in the face of fierce opposition from Abbas, said Israel had to make a choice between maintaining the dream of Greater Israel, which would result in "endless bloodshed," or giving up part of that dream. "This is the land for which Jewish people would pray for, yearning for and dying for in all their history: Shilo and Beit El and Ofra and Kedumim. All of these places are part of the Land of Israel, always were, and always emotionally continue to be," he said. "But it so happens that there are two peoples living between the Jordan and the sea. And to the degree that it depends on us, we have to make our choices. And the choice we have to make is what we prefer more: Do we prefer to live in all those places where these houses you are afraid will be demolished are now - and if that happens then we will never be separated from the Palestinians, and from the basis of our experience, knowledge and understanding there will be endless conflict and endless terror and eternal bloodshed between us and them - or do we prefer to live in part of this land, separated from the Palestinians, alongside them, so that they will be able to realize their dream, and we can realize our dream, even if our dreams will not be the complete comprehensive fulfillment of the historical dream, that we dwell in all of the Land of Israel. This is the real choice that we have to make. The rest is a matter of argument. "If Israel will have to confine itself to only part of this territory, then it will become the personal priority of each one of the Israeli settlers who live in the territories, which will have to be vacated whether he wants to live in a Jewish state, the State of Israel, or he wants to live in a Palestinian state because he prefers to be attached to this particular part of the historic Land of Israel over being part of the Jewish state. And I think that given the circumstances, I know what the priority of most of the people will be," Olmert said. Asked if he was speaking rhetorically or would seriously be giving settlers who wanted to remain on their land after the evacuation of their settlements the opportunity to do so, a spokeswoman for the Prime Minister's Office ruled out the possibility that an Israeli prime minister would ever allow Israeli citizens to live under Palestinian sovereignty. "There is not even the remotest option of that," she said. Aumann, a staunch settlement supporter, later told the Post that, given the choice, he would remain on land vacated by Israel in the West Bank under Palestinian sovereignty, if his safety was guaranteed by the Palestinian Authority. Aumann, who lives in Jerusalem, added that he would encourage other settlers to do the same. "I will live in a Palestinian state if my life is assured by the Palestinian Authority, and I call on others to do the same if their security is assured. If it cannot be assured, then there is no peace. If we have hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, Arabs, living in Israel, and we cannot have Israelis living in the land of the [Palestinian] Authority, then there is no peace," he said. Turning to the question of Iran, Olmert said that he had told world leaders that when this subject came up, he "loses any sense of humor." "When I see a leader stand up in public and say that Israel should be wiped off the map, and at the same time, this leader is making every effort to obtain nuclear weapons, I have no sense of humor. I have the collective memory of my people. When someone threatens to wipe the Jews off the map, I have to take them seriously, and when they are going for nuclear weapons, I cannot have one day of rest," Olmert said, adding that the prospect of Iran having nuclear weapons is "totally, absolutely intolerable." In the evening, speaking at the Caesarea Conference in Jerusalem, Olmert pledged to continue with his policy of targeted assassinations against terrorists and anyone who was involved in the attempt to harm Israelis, even though such tactics led to the death of innocent civilians in Gaza. "I am sorry about the depths of my heart for the unintended deaths of innocent people in Gaza and Khan Yunis. No one understands that kind of pain more than us," Olmert said. But he said he had a responsibility to protect the citizens of the Negev against rocket attacks. Tovah Lazaroff contributed to this report.