Olmert, Abbas agree to hold talks following Blair visit

"I am ready to meet PM Olmert without conditions," says Abbas; British PM says he would recognize a Fatah-Hamas national unity gov't.

blair closing eyes 298.8 (photo credit: AP)
blair closing eyes 298.8
(photo credit: AP)
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas both said after separate get-togethers with British Prime Minister Blair Saturday and Sunday that they would hold talks, a small step toward reviving stalled peace efforts. An expected stop in Lebanon will focus on the aftermath of last month's bloody conflict there between Israel and Hezbollah guerrillas. Blair arrived in Ramallah Sunday afternoon to meet with Abbas in an effort to revive the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians.
  • Slanted, but not to be discounted Blair also tried to draw Hamas into peace efforts, but the group, which controls the Palestinian government, rejected his condition that it first renounce violence and recognize Israel. Despite Hamas' tough stance, the readiness by Olmert and Abbas to meet were the first sign of movement in peace making in months. It also provided a welcome boost for Blair, whose domestic woes, including harsh criticism of his Mideast policies, forced him to announce plans last week to leave office within a year. "For the past months, the situation has gone backwards and not forwards," Blair said at a joint news conference. But now, he added, "there is window of opportunity, even if it does seem very bleak." Standing alongside the British prime minister, Abbas said he is prepared to sit down with Olmert. "We are ready immediately for serious negotiations to end the conflict," Abbas said. "I am ready to meet Prime Minister Ehud Olmert without conditions." Israel said it would work to bring about the meeting soon. Olmert's spokeswoman, Miri Eisin, said Israel is interested in bolstering Abbas, who is locked in a power struggle with Hamas. "It's important to show support for moderate voices in the Palestinian community," she said. She said Israel is prepared to take unspecified "creative" actions that go beyond humanitarian gestures. But she ruled out a Palestinian prisoner release until Shalit returns home. Reflecting Blair's comment that there is currently a "window of opportunity," Abbas announced that he is actively working to form a national unity government. The Palestinian Chairman also reiterated that he is willing to meet with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert without any preconditions. Hamas Spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri immediately rejected the British prime minister's calls for Hamas to moderate its violently anti-Israel ideology. Zuhri said the group is ready to form a coalition government with the more moderate Fatah movement, but "not according to standards that are dictated." "I want to renew our rejection of these (Western) decisions because we consider them as biased, unjust and conditional decisions," Abu Zuhri said.