Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, President Bush and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at the White House last week (Courtesy Carrie Devorah)
JERUSALEM – Just days after committing to negotiations aimed at evacuating strategic territory to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert today admitted the Palestinian leader is weak and may never gain the power necessary to implement law and order.
“We now have a partner [in Abbas.] He is a weak partner, who is not capable, and, as Tony Blair says, has yet to formulate the tools and may not manage to do so,” Olmert told Israel’s Haaretz newspaper.
The comments did not receive wide attention.
But Olmert, during the same interview, nevertheless stated he would negotiate with Abbas.
“It is my job to reach an understanding on the guidelines for an agreement,” Olmert said.
At last week’s U.S.-sponsored Annapolis summit, Olmert committed to aim for the conclusion of an agreement with the Palestinians before President Bush leaves office in 2009, with Israel widely expected to evacuate large swaths of the West Bank, which borders Jerusalem and is within rocket range of Tel Aviv and Israel’s international airport. There is widespread speculation Olmert also will hand to Abbas eastern Jerusalem neighborhoods.
But Israeli security officials said they were concerned Abbas is not strong enough in the West Bank to impose law and order without the help of the Israel Defense Forces. They said they fear Hamas will take over the territory if Israel evacuates.
Hamas leaders in recent weeks vowed their organization would seize the West Bank if Israel hands the territory to Abbas, just as Hamas seized the Gaza Strip last June, overtaking in less than one week all U.S.-backed security compounds associated with Abbas’ Fatah organization.
WND reported Israeli and Palestinian security officials said they have specific information Hamas is quietly setting the stages for an imminent West Bank takeover attempt. The officials said that among other things, Hamas has been acquiring weaponry in the West Bank and has set up a sophisticated system of communication between cells for a seizure attempt.
Last week, WND reported Israel cracked down on a Hamas cell suspected of attempting to form a military wing to take over the West Bank.
Since the end of the Annapolis summit, Olmert has been making comments many analysts here consider unusual for an Israeli leader.
Over the weekend he compared the Palestinian cause, which routinely utilizes terrorism as a tool, to the struggle for equality in South Africa during the apartheid era.
“If the day comes when the two-state solution collapses, and we face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights (also for the Palestinians in the territories), then, as soon as that happens, the state of Israel is finished,” Olmert told reporters.
Some of Israel’s most feverish, anti-Semitic critics often compare the quest for Palestinian statehood to the racial equality struggle in South Africa and accuse Israel of being an “apartheid state.”
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