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Olmert sees talks with US on Israel's borders

Written by: Staff

JERUSALEM, Mar 26: Israeli interim Prime Minister Ehud Olmert today said he would hold talks with the United States and other countries before any unilateral pullback in the West Bank, part of his platform for Tuesday's election.

Olmert says the vote is a referendum on his ''consolidation'' plan -- a proposal to evacuate isolated settlements in the occupied West Bank while strengthening larger enclaves if peace efforts go nowhere, and establish permanent borders 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 unilateral 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.

The plan is vehemently opposed by the Palestinians, who outnumber Israeli settlers 10-to-one in the West Bank.

The say it will not only effectively annex territory but also cut the direct routes between their population centres.

And this, they say, will put the last nail in the coffin of their hopes of establishing a viable and contiguous state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Washington has expressed support both for such a Palestinian state and for the retention of some Jewish settlements.


Olmert told Israel Radio the blueprint would help ''preserve Israel as a Jewish state with a stable Jewish majority, while separating from the Palestinians''.

''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. In public remarks at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting, Olmert urged Israelis to ''go and vote'' amid predictions that Kadima could be hit hard if voters, seeing its victory as a foregone conclusion, stayed home.

Kadima has never been tested in an election and political analysts said that some of its potential voters might change their minds at the last minute and opt for the traditional parties -- centre-left Labour or the right-wing Likud.

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

In the radio interview, Olmert repeated that Israel could not deal with Hamas unless it recognised the Jewish state, renounced violence and accepted existing interim peace deals.

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


Olmert told Israel Radio: ''The choice today is either to sit and do nothing and be embroiled in a never-ending war ... or to find any way to bring a separation from the Palestinians without giving up any security.'' He said Israel would wait ''a reasonable period'' to see if Hamas 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 continued to block peacemaking.

Abbas has urged Hamas to adopt his vision of a negotiated peace with Israel. He 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.


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