The Prime Minister's Office denied on Friday morning that a date had been set for a meeting between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, Army Radio reported on Friday. The statement followed a report by the Palestinian news agency Ma'an, that Olmert and Abbas were set to meet on Monday. Ma'an said that the meeting was arranged after it was agreed that the Palestinians would determine the identities of the prisoners released in an exchange deal with Israel.
Hamas to expand 'Executive Force'
Officials in Jerusalem confirmed that there had been discussions over the establishment of a committee that would determine which prisoners would be released, but they emphasized that no prisoner would be freed before Cpl. Gilad Shalit's safe return.
On Thursday night, Olmert told Kadima activists at the party's Petah Tikva headquarters that he expected to take diplomatic steps with the Palestinians in the upcoming year.
Speaking to a crowd of hundreds of activists, Olmert said he was "doing everything possible to bring about a diplomatic horizon." He said he would not maintain the status quo on the Palestinian issue.
Mocking the headlines last week about the revelation of Israel's nuclear capability, Olmert said that "without specifying, Israel has great power (otzma adira)."
"Israel cannot tolerate the threat emanating from Iran," Olmert said.
"Israel and the international community will do everything necessary to deal with the threat."
Olmert predicted that economic indicators would soon find that 2006 was Israel's most successful year ever economically.
Vice Premier Shimon Peres told the crowd that the Kassam rockets cannot be stopped. He said that had former prime minister Ariel Sharon been conscious, he would have said, as he did before, that people should keep calm and "stop crying and whining about the rocket attacks."
"There will be more Kassams and we cannot stop all of them at once," Peres said. "We are operating technically and militarily and I don't think we should be arguing about whether or not to fire back."
Opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu called upon Olmert to end Israel's policies of restraint in response to the Palestinian rockets fired upon Sderot. Speaking at a rally in Or Yehuda sponsored by Likud MK Yuval Steinitz, Netanyahu said it was time for Olmert to give the IDF free reign to fire back in the Gaza Strip.
"The government should not allow the Palestinians to continue firing Kassam rockets at Israel," Netanyahu told a crowd of some 800 Likud activists. "The IDF should be allowed to operate in a fundamental manner to remove the missile threat from the people of Sderot and the Western Negev."
Netanyahu and Steinitz compared the Likud to the Maccabees, saying that the party was "the few up against the many."
The Likud leader complained that the public had not listened to his warnings about the security situation. "The nation has strength but it lacks leadership," Netanyahu said. "There is no government in Israel. Olmert is tired."