Reidblog [The Reid Report blog]

Think at your own risk.
Monday, November 27, 2006
Olmert makes a move
After the disastrous Lebanon and Gaza campaigns, which turned the entire world off, Israel's Ehud Olmert walks back toward the negotiating table.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of Israel, trying to build on a shaky cease-fire in Gaza, offered Palestinians today a series of incentives including negotiations and a prisoner release if they turned away from violence.

There was little new in Mr. Olmert’s speech. But the timing was important, because both Mr. Olmert and the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, are eager to bolster their own political positions, begin a serious dialogue and stop a bloody cycle of violence.

Mr. Olmert spoke just days before President Bush is to arrive in Jordan to discuss Iraq and other regional issues and one day after King Abdullah of Jordan warned of “the strong potential of three civil wars in the region, whether it’s the Palestinians, that of Lebanon, or of Iraq.”

Expectations are high that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice may come here after Jordan to try to solidify the fragile rapprochement that Mr. Abbas and Mr. Olmert are discussing, which may include an extension of the cease-fire to the occupied West Bank.

In his speech, Mr. Olmert appealed to Palestinians to turn away from militant resistance and commit to peaceful negotiations that would result in an independent state. “You, the Palestinian people,” Mr. Olmert said, “are standing in these days at an historic crossroads.”

If the Palestinians can form a new unity government that satisfies international standards and they release a captured Israeli soldier, Mr. Olmert said, he would respond by immediately meeting with Mr. Abbas; releasing hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, some of them serving long sentences; reducing checkpoints; and moving toward a further, unspecified withdrawal of Israeli settlers from the West Bank.

Mr. Olmert promised that Israel would also then release to the Palestinian Authority the $50 million a month in taxes and duties that Israel has collected for the Palestinians but withheld, arguing that the ruling Hamas faction is a terrorist group. The total so far this year is more than $500 million.

But all of these steps — essentially confidence-rebuilding measures — are far short of serious negotiations about a peaceful solution to the conflict, which is nearly 60 years old.

One of the new elements in the speech was more subtle, an Israeli official said, pointing to Mr. Olmert’s praise for Arab countries like Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states that “strive for a peaceful solution to the conflict between us.” Mr. Olmert said he found parts of a Saudi peace initiative to be “positive,” the first time that an Israeli leader has done more than declare the initiative an internal Arab document, the official said.

The 2002 Saudi initiative, supported by the Arab League, offered normal relations with Israel in return for an Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 boundaries, the establishment of a Palestinian state and a solution to the issue of Palestinian refugees. Mr. Olmert has said that Israel will not return to the 1967 lines, but is willing to negotiate land swaps.

“I intend to invest efforts in order to advance the connection” with those Arab states “and strengthen their support of direct bilateral negotiations between us and the Palestinians,” Mr. Olmert said.

One thing that Israel isn't budging on, however, is the right of return.
posted by JReid @ 4:32 PM  
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