PA official: No chance of peace deal by end '08

Official decries Olmert's decision to step down; Abbas says he will negotiate with any elected PM.

Abbas hung over 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Abbas hung over 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's decision to step down after the Kadima primaries in September means the chances of reaching an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians before the end of this year are non-existent, Palestinian Authority officials said Thursday. Although Palestinian leaders publicly described Olmert's decision as an "internal Israeli affair," some expressed concern in private that the political crisis in Israel would have a negative impact on the peace talks. PA President Mahmoud Abbas received the news of Olmert's decision to quit during a visit to Tunisia. He told reporters the Palestinians would deal with whomever the Israelis elect as prime minister. "We will continue to deal with Ehud Olmert until the Israeli people elect a new leader," he said. Chief PA negotiator Saeb Erekat said the Palestinians have always paid a heavy price for political instability in Israel. "It's true that what's happening is an internal Israeli affair, but we shouldn't be the ones to pay with our blood," Erakat said. "The political crisis in Israel may translate into more killings and bloodshed." Erekat said the Palestinians don't deal with political parties or individuals in Israel, but with Israel as a state. He added that the Palestinians would continue to deal with any prime minister who succeeds Olmert to advance the peace process. A top PA official said the chances of reaching an agreement with Israel before the end of 2008 were "zero." "[Olmert] does not have a mandate to strike any deal with us," he added. The official also said that the political "turmoil" in Israel meant the peace process would have to wait until after the next election. "In the next few months everyone is going to be preoccupied with the political crisis in Israel," he said. Hamas said that Olmert's decision to quit was a blow to the PA and those who believe in negotiations with Israel. "Olmert's announcement is a blow to those in the Palestinian Authority who have tied their destiny to the so-called peace process," said Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri. "This is a blow to all those who believe that a Palestinian state could be established before the end of the year." The Hamas spokesman also said that Olmert's decision reflected the "state of deterioration and regression" in Israel at a time when Hamas's power is on the rise. The three major Palestinian dailies ran the news of Olmert's dramatic announcement as the main story on their front pages. The PA-funded Al-Ayyam wrote in a red headline: "Finally, Olmert falls." Al-Hayat Al- Jadeeda, another PA-funded daily, quoted Abbas as saying that Olmert's decision was an internal Israeli affair. The East Jerusalem Al-Quds newspaper, the largest Palestinian daily, wrote in its headline that Olmert had "reached the end of his political path." An Al-Quds editorial voiced skepticism that Olmert's successors would be able to advance the cause of peace. "The Palestinians, who consider the latest developments in Israel as an internal affair, are keen on seeing the peace process move forward," the paper said. "The Palestinians don't care who rules Israel. They only want those who are in power to have the ability to impact the Israeli street so as to advance the peace process and reach an agreement that would see an end to the Israeli military and settlement occupation that began in 1976. But there's a great degree of skepticism as to the prospects of the emergence of a new leadership that would be able to deliver." The London-based pan-Arab daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi also ran a banner headline on the Olmert story, highlighting the fact that the prime minister had admitted to making mistakes while he was in power. Some Arab readers of these papers responded by expressing hope that the day would come when an Arab leader would follow suit and admit to making mistakes. One reader, Abu Khafan Sawaifi, expressed hope that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak would one day admit to having "destroyed" Egypt. Many readers viewed Olmert's downfall as a severe blow to Abbas and the PA leadership in Ramallah. Abu Khaled al-Urduni, another reader, called on Abbas and the old guard of Fatah to step down and pave the way for the emergence of a new and younger leadership. A third reader, Adel, expressed hope that Abbas and the PA leadership would also disappear in the near future. "Our Arab peoples are suffering under corrupt dictatorships that are supported by the Americans," he commented. "Soon all these regimes will collapse and the revenge of the people will be horrific." Commenting on the Al-Jazeera Web site, several readers also expressed hope that the Arab leaders would follow suit and resign. "What's wrong with learning from our enemies about spreading justice to all?" asked Muhammed al-Fateh. "If we continue to oppress our people, we will all perish. Wake up, Arabs!"