Monday, October 08, 2007

PM firm on working with PA leadership

With a huge gap between the Palestinian Authority leadership's desire for peace with Israel and its capacity to implement agreements, Jerusalem will move carefully forward with the current PA government, but condition Israeli concessions on the PA's ability to carry out its undertakings, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told his cabinet Sunday. In a foreshadowing of a speech Olmert is scheduled to deliver to the Knesset Monday to open its winter session, the prime minister said that he had decided to move forward with the current PA leadership because there were more dangers for Israel in continuing the status quo, than in seeing the diplomatic process through with the moderate PA leadership of President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salaam Fayad.

"The situation is different than in the past," Olmert said. "For the first time, there is Palestinian leadership that wants to reach peace based on two states living side by side in security, and where Israel will be a Jewish state," Olmert said.
He said that in the past, there had been no certainty in Jerusalem that what the Palestinian leadership said was what it meant. Now, he said, Abbas and Fayad genuinely want peace, but the question is whether they can implement agreements.
Olmert said that after holding a series of talks with Abbas, he was convinced that he was serious about wanting peace with Israel.

He is "consistent and systematic," Olmert said of Abbas. "He is against terrorism and is ready for serious dialogue with Israel."

In light of the different leadership, Olmert said, it is necessary to "create a political horizon." However, he said, Israel differentiated between the "talking stage" and the "implementing stage."

"Israel will not carry out anything on the ground until the other side passes the test of implementing what it needs to," Olmert said.

Olmert clarified to the ministers that the US-sponsored November meeting in Annapolis was not a substitute for direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, and he said it was clear to all that a condition for participation in the talks was recognition of Israel as a Jewish State.

After that meeting, at which time a joint declaration would be endorsed, negotiations would begin, he said.

Olmert said that if Israel did not take this opportunity, then in a couple of years Jerusalem could be faced not with a moderate PA leadership, but with a Hamas leadership, and people would ask why Israel did not take advantage of the situation when Abbas was president.

The prime minister said that it was quite possible that the gaps between the PA leadership's will and abilities could prove "insufferable." On the other hand, he said, the gaps might be bridgeable, and it was Israel's obligation to see the process through. Olmert said he was taking the risks seriously and that he would move cautiously and slowly and hold a number of discussions both in the cabinet and the security cabinet on the declaration to be drafted for the summit.

A number of ministers responded to Olmert's comments, with Vice Premier Haim Ramon - who first raised the idea several weeks ago of transferring Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem to the Palestinians - saying that Israel should make some humanitarian gestures toward the Palestinians on the refugee issue.

This prompted a response from Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who said she was opposed to any concession on the refugee issue, and that "humanitarian gestures" on the matter would only provide an opening for demands that Israel take in Palestinian refugees.

Ramon said Israel had not been tough enough in its sanctions against "Hamastan," and at the same time could do more to ease the situation in the West Bank and let the moderate Palestinians know that if they would take certain steps, there would be a "political horizon" and hope.

Ramon reiterated his position that Israel should cede certain Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem, and hinted that this should be raised at the November meeting.
"Whoever thinks the subject of discussions will be limited to the structure of Palestinian institutions is deluded. Israel has an interest in obtaining recognition of all of Jerusalem's Jewish neighborhoods, and to hand over control of Arab neighborhoods to the Palestinians. When we speak of a diplomatic horizon, these are the subjects we are referring to," Ramon said.

Surprisingly, Israel Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman also agreed that Israel should cede control of certain areas of Jerusalem, while strengthening its control of areas such as the Old City and Mount Scopus. He said that in certain neighborhoods and refugee camps in the capital, the only connection between the residents and Israel was that they picked up a monthly National Insurance Institute check.
Meanwhile, both OC Military Intelligence Maj.-Gen. Amos Yadlin and Shin Bet head Yuval Diskin said Hamas was effectively asserting its control over Gaza. At the same time, Yadlin said Fatah was taking action against Hamas in the West Bank, including arresting Hamas activists and closing down some of Hamas's offices.

Yadlin said that Hamas was working against the November summit and wanted to believe that it would not succeed. If the organization identified a chance that the summit might succeed, however, it would try to torpedo it through violence and terrorism, he said.
Currently, however, Hamas was not interested in an escalation with Israel, and was not responsible for Kassam attacks on Israel, but rather was focused on strengthening its grip on Gaza and in building itself up militarily, Yadlin said.

Diskin told the cabinet that in the past month and a half, the security forces had foiled seven suicide attacks in Israel. Diskin also noted a marked decline in the number of Kassam rockets fired at Israel, from 110 a month in August to 85 in September. According to Shin Bet assessments, the figures were the result of Hamas making a strategic decision to cease rocket fire.•

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