Lebanon says no to peace

Livni undersands Saniora's difficult predicament, saying it is related to Syria.

saniora gestures 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
saniora gestures 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
Lebanese officials have rejected a number of overtures from Israel to "sit, shake hands and make peace," Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Sunday. Olmert, during a visit to mark the opening of the school year at the ORT High School in Ma'alot-Tarshisha, said: "How natural and understandable it would be for the prime minister of Lebanon to respond to the many calls I have made toward him, through various people, and say, 'Come on, let's sit, shake hands, make peace and end once and for all the hostility and jealousy that a part of my people have turned against you." Olmert said that he hoped the day when this would happen was "not far off." "There is no other nation in the world that wants peace more than we," he said. "We are fast to forgive and are easily reconciled. What we are asking for is so simple, natural, normal and obvious: to enjoy life, to enjoy what other nations see as obvious - to wake up in the morning without worries. We have struggled for 60 years to achieve these simple things." Until that day, Olmert said, Israel would make sure it was prepared "for any surprise," and he pledged that the country would invest "tremendous resources so that the Galilee will blossom and be full of happiness." Lebanese Foreign Minister Fawzi Salloukh rejected Olmert's offer for negotiating peace between the two countries on Sunday. "Israel must first fulfill UNSC resolution 1701 and end its embargo on Lebanon before we can talk about peace," Salloukh said. Later Sunday, another top government official claimed that the PM's call for peace was just "empty propaganda." Olmert's comments came five days after both he and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, after meeting with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan in Jerusalem, spoke of a desire for conciliation with Lebanon. Saniora, however, quickly threw cold water on the idea, saying the same day that Lebanon would be the last Arab country to sign a peace agreement with Israel. Diplomatic officials would not say when, or through whom the messages were relayed to Saniora, but that Olmert was "sorry that he rejected the idea of a peaceful resolution out of hand." Miri Eisin, Olmert's spokeswoman, said, "Saniora made a strong statement against peace with Israel that was disappointing, since Israel has no territorial dispute with Lebanon and always aspires to advance peace and stability in the region with neighbors who denounce terrorism." Livni, in an interview with Channel 10 Sunday evening, said that although Olmert was correct in making the overtures, she understood Saniora's difficult predicament and said it was related to Syria. Livni ruled out negotiations between Israel and Syria for now, saying that a "sequence" must be followed, with an end to Syrian support of Lebanese and Palestinian extremists coming first. Last week Finland's Ambassador to Israel Kari Veijalainen told The Jerusalem Post that Israel would do well to signal the Syrians an interest in negotiations to get Damascus to help implement UN Security Council Resolution 1701. Livni said that a move to open Israel-Syria peace talks now would disrupt efforts to stabilize Lebanon. "The tools are in place to free Lebanon from Syria," she said. "To add other Syrian interests to this 'salad,' if you'll pardon the expression, would in my opinion complicate a process that is acceptable to everyone." Syria, she added, "must understand that [international] demands of it are clear: stopping support of terrorism - Palestinian as well as Lebanese - and this brings on the issue of sequence." Livni said that in the past, ill-fated negotiations between Israel and Syria further undermined the tense relations between Israel and the Palestinians. She said the Palestinian issue should be the top priority now. Meanwhile, in a related development, Israel was taking a wait-and-see approach to a Qatar Airways announcement Sunday that it would renew direct daily passenger flights between Doha and Beirut on Monday, despite the Israeli air and sea blockade of Lebanon. "Let's wait and see what happens tomorrow," one government source said. "International carriers are not interested in seeing anything happen to their passengers." He said there is a significant difference between passenger and cargo flights, and Israel's main concern was cargo flights into Beirut. Passenger flights, he said, are allowed from Amman. He said that as soon as an international force arrived at the Beirut airport to supervise and ensure that weapons would not be smuggled in, Israel would lift the air blockade. The source, however, would not predict how Israel would respond to a Qatar Airways flight. AP contributed to this report.