Although Abbas described Olmert’s handshake with him as “Very warm, very warm,” it was clear that future talks may not be as easy. “Abu Mazen” – Abbas’ nom de guerre – said bluntly that the PA would demand an Israeli withdrawal to the pre-1967 borders, “no more and no less.”
Israel’s Prime Minister was equally forthright in the first meeting between the two sides, albeit an informal one.
“I am ready to go all the way to make compromises and pull out of territory, something you would not expect an Israeli prime minister to say in an Arab country openly and publicly,” said Olmert. He made it plain, however, that there were limits to his willingness to bend over backward for peace.
"There will be blocks of settlements that will remain, that cannot be evacuated,” he cautioned, but added that there would be “many, many parts of the territory... evacuated by Israel, and contiguous territory where the Palestinians will be able to realize their life-long dream of building their independent state."
Olmert also made reference to the specific differences that would be faced during negotiations over final borders. “I have no commitment to return back to the boundaries that are defined by Abu Mazen or other Palestinians,” he said. “We will argue about it.”
Abu-Rudaineh said the PA has been waiting for Israel to come to the table. “The first day Olmert took office we told the Israelis we are ready to open negotiations, and we are waiting for them,” he said.
Vice Premier Shimon Peres, a longtime advocate of peace talks pointed out that such negotiations require partners on both sides – something that has been missing for years. “Israel would have sat at the negotiating table a long time ago and the Palestinians would have a state were it not for the Palestinian terror and the Kassam rocket fire,” he commented, adding “The way of terror and shedding blood does not promote peace.”
Jordan’s King Abdullah II cautioned both Abbas and Olmert to begin with confidence-building measures before going back to the negotiation table. He urged the two leaders to follow the internationally-backed road map peace plan designed by the Quartet (United Nations, United States, Russia and the European Union) as a basis for talks between the PA and Israel.
Using Abbas’ nom de guerre in a friendly gesture, Olmert said he believed that “Abu Mazen” had come to the meeting in good faith. However, he said, he was also forced to note that Abbas is not the prime minister of the PA. He pointed out that the PA government is now controlled by a terrorist group.
Abbas’ Fatah faction and Hamas have been fighting a bloody internal war for control of the PA government after the terrorist organization was elected in a landslide victory six months ago.
Olmert said that nothing of substance could be accomplished until the Hamas-led PA government accepted the conditions set forth by the Quartet as a requirement for resuming the flow of funds to the cash-strapped government as well as a return to peace talks. The conditions include officially recognizing Israel’s right to exist, renouncing terrorism and upholding agreements signed by the previous PA government. Hamas has consistently refused to do so.
Speaking at the Caesarea Conference in Jerusalem Thursday night, Olmert addressed Israel’s threat to carry out its unilateral withdrawal plan if Hamas continues to refuse to come to the table. Olmert emphasized that he will carry out planned expulsions from Jewish communities unilaterally only if there is no partner. He said he looks forward to Abbas as an alternative to Hamas in negotiations with Israel.