Olmert: Peace agreement with Palestinians is possible soon
Nov. 26, 2008
Hilary Leila Krieger, the jerusalem post, washington , THE JERUSALEM POST
It will soon be possible to reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians,
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Tuesday, the morning after a farewell visit
with US President George W. Bush and other administration officials who
conceded a deal was not likely to materialize in the short term.
"In principle there is nothing to prevent us from reaching an agreement on the
core issues in the near future," Olmert said during a briefing with Israeli
reporters. "I believe it is possible. I believe it is timely. A declaration is
needed. I am ready to make it. I hope the other side is."
He also stressed the US had not tied Israel's hands when it came to military
operations in the waning days of the Bush administration, despite media reports
to the contrary.
"I don't remember that anyone in the administration, including the last couple
of days, advised me or any of my official representatives not to take any
action which we will deem necessary for the fundamental security of Israel, and
that includes Iran," he said, in response to a question from The Jerusalem
He pointed to conversations with Bush and his deputies who are "so open, so
candid, so personal, that they can say to me anything they feel, and they do...
This was not one of the things they said."
Speaking generally about his meetings with Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney,
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and others, Olmert also said, "There is a
deep, basic understanding between us about the Iranian threat and the need to
act in order to remove that threat."
There has been speculation that if Israel were going to attack Iran's nuclear
sites it would do so before President-elect Barack Obama takes office on
Time magazine also reported that the US had told Israel to refrain from a major
invasion of Gaza, despite renewed rocket fire from the Strip, so as not to
disrupt peace talks.
But when it came to the Palestinians, during the briefing and in remarks before
his meeting with Bush, Olmert focused on the possibility of reaching an
agreement rather than on the renewed violence.
The prime minister said there wouldn't be any written declaration of principles
or other document spelling out the intermediate steps taken and agreements
reached to date to prepare for a new American administration, because he was
looking for a comprehensive peace deal.
"You don't need months to make a decision," he said, noting the two years of
intensive meetings with the Palestinians that he's overseen.
Ahead of their meeting and private dinner Monday night, Bush also focused on
the peace process.
"We strongly believe that Israel will benefit by having a Palestinian state, a
democracy on her border that works for peace," the president said, sitting
beside Olmert in the Oval Office. "That vision is alive because of you."
The two leaders exchanged expressions of friendship and appreciation, with
Olmert praising Bush for removing the threat of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein
from Israel's eastern front.
But Rice acknowledged earlier this month that the goal of a peace deal by the
end of 2008, set at the Annapolis conference officially launching negotiations
last year, was unachievable.
Still, the subject was a major focus of Olmert's discussions with the secretary
"There are a number of issues that Prime Minister Olmert and the secretary
discussed, obviously the Annapolis process being the key element," said Deputy
State Department spokesman Robert Wood after their meeting Tuesday.
It was a follow-up to talks Olmert held with Rice and National Security Adviser
Stephen Hadley a day earlier.
Olmert also said the economic crisis was a key point of discussion, though he
didn't expect it to affect the $30 billion in military aid Israel is slated to
receive from the US over the next decade.
"We have an agreement with the United States for 10 years and no one has any
doubts that it will be fulfilled," Olmert said. "America is wealthy, powerful
and has integrity. No one has hinted this is up for discussion."
He said the meetings also didn't touch on talk that the US might open a
low-level interests section in Teheran to reenergize diplomatic efforts to
limit its nuclear program.
"This government has no interest in relations with Iran," Olmert said.
Though Obama has indicated he favors engagement with the Islamic republic,
Olmert said Israel would wait to see what he proposed before reacting.
He said Obama shared the position that a nuclear-armed Iran was unacceptable.
Olmert didn't speak with Obama while in the US, noting that Obama has pointed
out that there's only one president at a time and that meeting with foreign
leaders wouldn't be appropriate at this point.
But the prime minister did speak to Obama by phone soon after his victory to
congratulate him, reporting that "there's a comprehensive and orderly
transition [being prepared], and this includes on issues related to Israel."
Obama has called for more intense efforts to promote the Israeli-Palestinian
peace process and pledged not to wait until late in his term, as Bush did, to
step up engagement on the issue.
In his conversation with reporters, Olmert also made the case for a resolution
to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
"The dispute is not between continuing the status quo or a two-state solution,"
he warned. "The dispute is between a two-state solution and the emergence of a
new narrative - of one state."