JERUSALEM – Five days after WND broke the story exposing secret Israeli-Palestinian talks aimed at reaching an agreement on core issues, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced today in Washington his intention to continue negotiations in hope of an agreement on core issues.
“In principle there is nothing to prevent us from reaching an agreement on the core issues in the near future,” Olmert said regarding ongoing peace negotiations with the Palestinian Authority.
“We’re in a situation where it’s possible to do so, and I hope we do. It would be good for the state of Israel,” said Olmert speaking to Israeli reporters after a meeting today with President Bush.
Speaking of “a painful sacrifice of parts of the land of Israel and the history of the Jewish people,” Olmert told reports now was the “time for decisions.”
“I am ready to make that decision, and I hope the other side will make it as well,” he said. “You don’t need months to make a decision.”
Last week, informed Israeli and Palestinian sources told WND that despite media reports painting a dismal picture of negotiation prospects, Israel and the PA were still quietly working to conclude a major agreement before President Bush leaves office.
The agreement would seek an eventual major West Bank withdrawal and grant the PA permission to open official institutions in Jerusalem. But it would postpone talks on the future status of the capital city until new Israeli and U.S. governments are installed next year.
A top source said the PA requested that as part of the understandings, the U.S. would threaten sanctions for any new Jewish construction in the West Bank.
Israel recaptured the West Bank in the 1967 Six Day War. The territory, in which about 200,000 Jews live, is tied to Judaism throughout the Torah and is often referred to as the biblical heartland of Israel.
The understandings both sides are trying to reach before January are part of an original plan initiated at last November’s U.S.-sponsored Annapolis summit, which sought to create a Palestinian state, at least on paper, by January. The summit launched talks aimed at concluding a final status agreement on all core issues: borders, the status of Jerusalem and the future of so-called Palestinian refugees.
But a final agreement has been hampered by several recent events here, most notably Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s decision to resign amid corruption charges, leading to general elections scheduled for February that will see a new prime minister elected.
The candidate for office from Olmert’s Kadima party, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, is said to oppose reaching a deal on Jerusalem or refugees ahead of elections, fearing it will harm her prospects among center-right voters. Livni is Olmert’s chief negotiator with the Palestinians.
A Palestinian source told WND the U.S. is said to favor Israel withdrawing from nearly the entire West Bank. Also being heavily negotiated is an agreement that would allow the PA to officially open institutions in Jerusalem.
WND previously reported the PA already has been quietly operating in Jerusalem, apparently with tacit approval from the Israeli government. But the expected agreement to be concluded before January would give the PA official operational status in the city, likely leading to the opening of scores of Palestinian institutions there.
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