Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Monday he was open to a "reasonable exchange" of Palestinian prisoners in return for a captured soldier, but he said the Palestinians' demands were too high. In an interview with Canadian Broadcasting Corp. TV, Olmert also said Israel was ready to meet Saudi Arabia over its Middle East peace plan, calling on the Saudis to take the lead in fighting extremism in the Arab world. The interview was to be broadcast later Monday in Canada.
Haiyeh: Barghouti on prisoner list
On the prisoner issue, Olmert declined to say how many Palestinians Israel would be willing to exchange for Cpl. Gilad Schalit, 20, abducted last June after Hamas-linked terrorists tunneled under the Israel-Gaza border and attacked an army base, killing two other soldiers.
But "it definitely will not be 1,400," the reported size of the list Israel recently received from Shalit's captors, Olmert told CBC. Officials have not confirmed how many names are on the list, but Palestinians say they include uprising leaders and activists convicted of involvement in fatal attacks.
Olmert earlier expressed disappointment with the list, but had neither rejected it outright nor signaled a willingness to exchange large numbers of prisoners for Shalit.
Olmert said a reasonable exchange "by Middle Eastern standards" likely would involve more prisoners than European or North American governments would release for one captured soldier.
Olmert has said Schalit's remains an obstacle to progress in peace talks with the Palestinians.
Still, Olmert said Israel was willing to talk directly with Saudi Arabia over its 2002 peace plan, recently reissued by the 22-member Arab League.
The proposal offers normal relations to Israel in exchange for its withdrawal to pre-1967 borders, a Palestinian state with a capital in east Jerusalem and a mutually agreed upon resolution over Palestinian refugees. Israel captured the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Golan Heights in the Six Day War.
Olmert hinted Israel and Saudi Arabia might already have spoken through third parties, saying, "There are ways of passing messages when you don't have formal contacts."
He described Saudi Arabia as a "key to progress" in the Middle East, saying it must play a "central" role in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
He also called on the Saudis to take the lead against Islamic radicalism.
"The time has come for the moderate forces in the Arab world to make a statement of courage and of leadership that will send a message across the Middle East that the days of the extremists are over, and the Saudis can play a major vital role in this direction," Olmert said, pounding the table.
Olmert said Israel would not renew peace talks with Syria until it was "seriously and genuinely" committed to ending support for Hizbollah, Hamas and insurgents in Iraq.