PM pledges to 'forge path' to peace

Olmert acknowledges dialogue full of risks, says Abbas is weak, PA can't ensure order in W. Bank.

Olmert low talker  (photo credit: AP)
Olmert low talker
(photo credit: AP)
On the eve of the first peace talks in nearly seven years, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Monday promised to "forge a historic path" toward a final settlement with the Palestinians. Israeli and Palestinian negotiators are set to meet Wednesday to kick off talks aimed at reaching a peace agreement by the end of 2008. Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas set the target at last month's Mideast peace conference in Annapolis, Maryland. Speaking at a business conference in Tel Aviv, Olmert acknowledged that the new dialogue is full of risks. He said Abbas's government is weak, and that Palestinian security forces are not yet capable of ensuring law and order in the West Bank. "This is an opportunity that entails many uncertainties, many risks, many dangers," Olmert said. "We cannot ignore them. But we absolutely must not allow uncertainty and risks to prevail because an opportunity also exists." "I intend to take advantage of this opportunity to wage serious, ongoing and uninterrupted negotiations in order to forge a historic path toward a new diplomatic reality," he added. The last round of peace talks broke down in violence in early 2001, shortly after the eruption of the second intifada. Israeli and Palestinian officials have that Wednesday's meeting is likely to focus on technical issues, with the real work to begin after an expected visit by Bush early next month. However, the talks have run into trouble following Israel's announcement last week that it plans to build 307 new housing units in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Har Homa. "This issue needs to be worked out before we start negotiations," Abbas confidant Yasser Abed Rabbo said. But he did not say construction must be halted as a condition for the talks to begin. Top Israeli and Palestinian negotiators were meeting on Monday to discuss the Har Homa issue.