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Olmert sees talks with US on Israel borders

Written by: Staff

JERUSALEM, Mar 26: Israeli interim Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, sketching a post-election strategy, said today he would hold talks with the United States and other countries before any unilateral pullback in the West Bank.

''We want to set Israel's permanent borders,'' Olmert said, referring two days before a general election to his pledge to draw the country's frontier lines by 2010.

He told Israel Radio an internal debate ''to define for ourselves our red lines'' would be the first step towards what he has said could be go-it-alone moves should peacemaking with the Palestinians remain frozen.

After that there would be ''negotiations with the United States and the international community'' on borders they would support, said Olmert, whose centrist Kadima party is the front-runner in Tuesday's general election.

''I have a foundation for believing that there is great openness, both in the United States and elsewhere, to listen to these points and to discuss them seriously,'' he said.

Olmert has called the coming election a national referendum n his ''consolidation'' plan, a proposal to evacuate isolated settlements in the occupied West Bank while strengthening larger enclaves if peace efforts go nowhere.

The blueprint, he said, would help ''preserve Israel as a Jewish state with a stable Jewish majority while separating from the Palestinians''.

Palestinians have said such steps would deny them the viable state they seek in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

DIM PROSPECTS Prospects for peacemaking raised by Israel's unilateral pullout from Gaza last year have dimmed with the crushing victory the Islamic militant group Hamas scored over the long-dominant Fatah faction in the Jan. 25 Palestinian election.

In the radio interview, Olmert repeated Israel could not consider dealing with Hamas unless the group recognised the Jewish state, renounced violence and accepted prior Israeli-Palestinian interim peace deals.

Hamas, dedicated to Israel's destruction and set to swear in its government on Wednesday, has rejected those conditions, saying it had a legitimate right to wage ''armed resistance'' against occupation.

''Therefore the choice today is either to sit and do nothing and be engrossed in a never-ending war ... or to find any way to bring a separation from the Palestinians without giving up any security,'' Olmert told the radio.

He said Israel would wait ''a reasonable period'' to see if Hamas had changed its ways and to give the international community time to ''reach the same conclusion as us -- that Hamas is not a negotiating partner''.

In a letter to Hamas prime minister-designate Ismail Haniyeh over the weekend, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said he could overrule Hamas if it continues to block peacemaking with Israel.

Abbas, who has urged Hamas to adopt his vision of a negotiated peace with Israel, is empowered by law to fire Haniyeh if his policies are deemed harmful to the national interest.

The Palestinian Legislative Council convenes on Monday for a confidence vote on Hamas's 24-member cabinet, the day before Israel holds its own ballot.


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