Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who is returning to Israel on Wednesday, has announced that there is no reason peace cannot be achieved between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
Speaking to reporters Tuesday after visiting the night before for the last time with U.S. President George W. Bush and other administration officials, Olmert said although all parties in the final status talks seemed pessimistic, it didn't have to be that way.
"In principle there is nothing to prevent us from reaching an agreement on the core issues in the near future," he said. "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."
The PA has repeatedly rejected offers by Israel to hand over more than 90 percent of Judea and Samaria and make sweeping security concessions in other areas.
PA Chairman and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas nixed the proposals because they did not include a commitment to deliver to the PA half of Jerusalem for use as the capital of a new Arab state. Abbas has also demanded that Israel accept an influx of some five million foreign Arab immigrants who either lived in the area before the establishment of the state and fled during the 1948 war, or are the descendants of those who fled at the time.
Time is running out on all sides: Abbas's term in office is slated to end with new PA elections in January, although he has said he will not leave office, claiming the term was meant to last until 2010. Olmert is already heading a transitional government, with general elections scheduled in Israel for February 10. He personally faces a string of corruption charges and may be indicted on at least one of them after a new government is settled.
"You don't need months to make a decision," insisted Olmert on Tuesday, pointing out that two years of ongoing talks between teams of negotiators for the PA and Israel had yielded progress but no deal.
The Prime Minister added that there would be no written document of understanding or declaration of principles when the new Obama Administration enters the White House.