Olmert tells Congress he will "exhaust every possibility to promote peace."
By NATHAN GUTTMANPublished: MAY 24, 2006 18:31Advertisement
Israel is satisfied with the positive approach of President Bush to the unilateral withdrawal plan and sees it as the first step in achieving American and international endorsement for the "realignment" plan. PM Ehud Olmert said after his six hour meeting with Bush that he is "very, very pleased from the content of the talks and from what I heard from the President."
Olmert also presented his idea of unilateral withdrawal from parts of the West Bank to Congress in a speech in front of a joint session and to leaders of the Jewish community and after concluding what he sees as a successful visit to the US. Olmert will go on to present his plan to leaders of Jordan, Egypt and to several European leaders.
"Our countries do not just share the experience and pain of terrorism," he told Congress. "We share the commitment and resolve to confront the brutal terrorists that took these innocent people from us. We share the commitment to extract from our grief a renewed dedication to providing our people with a better future.
"Let me state this as clearly as I can: we will not yield to terrorâ€¦ we will not surrender to terrorâ€¦.. and we will win the war on terror and restore peace to our societies.
For the full version of the Prime Minster's speech to Congress click here.
Sources in the Israeli delegation said Wednesday that Olmert's greatest achievement in his trip was the warm welcoming he received from President Bush and the willingness of the US leader to publicly praise the unilateral approach. The US too summed Olmert's meeting with Bush as positive and an administration official was quoted in the Washington Post as saying that "the level of comfort between the two men and the two governments rose during the visit."
Bush, at a joint press conference at the White House Tuesday, described Olmert's plans as "bold ideas" and said that "While any final status agreement will be only achieved on the basis of mutually agreed changes, and no party should prejudice the outcome of negotiations on a final status agreement, the Prime Minister's ideas could be an important step toward the peace we both support."
In return for Bush's conditioned support for unilateral steps, PM Olmert committed himself to make every effort to reach a negotiated agreement with the Palestinians, and changed his rhetoric concerning the Palestinian Authority President Mahmud Abbas. He began referring to Abbas as "the President," whereas he was usually called by Israeli officials "Chairman" and praised Abbas' leadership, after formerly calling him "helpless."
"I intend to exhaust every possibility to promote peace with the Palestinians, according to the road map, and I extend my hand in peace to Mahmoud Abbas, the elected President of the Palestinian Authority. I hope he will take the necessary steps which he committed to in order to move forward," Olmert said at the White House.
On Wednesday, in his speech in Congress, the Israeli PM added a sense of urgency to the need for an emergence of a Palestinian partner, saying that "We cannot wait for the Palestinians forever." In an earlier conversation with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Olmert said he will wait six to nine months for the Palestinians, but he was not willing to announce this timetable publicly.
Olmert made an effort to convince the administration and Congress in his sincere intention to seek a negotiated agreement with the Palestinians before moving forward on the unilateral track, yet he said he does not see at present any change on the Palestinian side which could make the Hamas-led PA an acceptable partner.
He also stressed in his talks the advantages of the realignment plan and the benefits it will have for the Palestinians, which would receive, according to Olmert, a "contiguous territory" which will allow them to build an independent state.
Olmert's meeting with Bush began late Tuesday afternoon and ended after dinner. The two leaders spent almost two hours in person, sitting on the Truman balcony of the White House and according to Olmert, who later briefed Israeli reporters on the meeting, the conversation was "fascinating and interesting," and brought him "great satisfaction."
While the meeting with Bush and the joint press conference were dedicated to outlining the merits of the unilateral realignment plan and the commitment to negotiate - if possible - with the Palestinians, the speech in Congress was more emotional and attempted to stress the shared tradition and goals of the US and Israel.
After talking about his belief that the Jewish people have a historic right "to the entire land," he added: "We have to relinquish part of our dream to leave room for the dreams of others, so that all of us can enjoy a better future." Olmert is the third Israeli leader to speak to a joint session of both chambers of Congress and was greeted warmly by the leader and members of House and Senate. His speech was halted 18 times for standing ovations by the members of Congress.
Olmert's guests at Capitol Hill were the father, mother and sister of American citizen Daniel Wultz, 16, who was killed in a terror attack in Tel-Aviv. Members of Congress turned to the gallery and applauded the family, which came from Florida, at length. The father Yekutiel (Tully), who was also injured in the attack at a food-stand, was assisted by a walking cane as he climbed to the Congress gallery.
Olmert and his team did not present in their talks in Washington any request for American financial assistance to fund the realignment plan, yet Olmert stressed the need for US support as Israel moves toward setting its borders with the Palestinians.
The Israeli PM ended his first visit to Washington with a meeting with Jewish leaders at the Blair House. He was expected to outline, in general terms, his concept regarding negotiations and unilateral steps. Before the meeting Olmert said he would keep the American Jewish community updated as his plan moves forward.
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