Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Olmert Seeks Palestinian Settlement Excluding Jerusalem

GWEN ACKERMAN, Bloomberg News | July 29, 2008

PARIS — Prime Minister Olmert wants to reach a partial settlement with the Palestinian Arabs that excludes Jerusalem, seeking to forge an agreement on issues including borders, security, and refugees.

Mr. Olmert aims to avoid having the issue of Jerusalem torpedo the "significant progress," made in the other area, his spokesman, Mark Regev, said in a statement yesterday. The city is claimed by both Israel and the Palestinian Arabs as their capital. Acknowledging that Jerusalem won't be part of an agreement this year means the two sides will miss their goal of reaching a peace agreement in 2008. The push for a limited settlement with President Abbas of the Palestinian Authority may reflect Mr. Olmert's effort to head off an effort to drive him from office. He's facing six investigations, two into alleged illegal financial dealings. While he has denied wrongdoing, his Kadima Party has set primaries in September to choose a new leader.

"Olmert doesn't want to go down in history as the prime minister who went down for corruption," a professor of political science at Bar Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel, Shmuel Sandler, said. "He's looking for a formula that will allow him to claim he has an agreement."

Mr. Abbas is also in the midst of domestic turmoil as tensions with the rival Hamas have escalated following a July 25 explosion in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip that left five Islamic fighters and a girl dead. Hamas blamed Mr. Abbas's Fatah movement for the bombing. Fatah has denied any involvement.

In related news, Syria is serious about seeking peace with Israel in exchange for the return of the Golan Heights, said its American ambassador, the strongest signal of Syrian interest in reaching a deal with its enemy of six decades.

"This is the state of Syria telling the state of Israel that we desire to end the state of war between us, to conclude peace between the two states, and to recognize each other and live as peaceful neighbors within a normalized context," the diplomat, Imad Moustapha, told the nonpartisan Peace Now organization. Tel Aviv-based Peace Now posted a recording of the comments on its Web site yesterday.

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