Olmert Calls on Abbas for Negotiations


Well, this is big news.
The man who will be Israel’s next Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert has dropped his bid for unilaterally settling Israel’s borders and has called on Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to negoatiate the permanent borders of Israel.
Last Wednesday, Abbas said he was ready for such negotiations.
As Akiva Eldar reported:

“You are going into very important elections,” Abu Mazen says. “We are in a historic period, in which we must decide whether we will move toward peace and a better future for our children. I can promise that you have a partner for this peace. On the day after the elections you will find us ready to sit in negotiations with no prior conditions. The leadership of both peoples and also of the international community has a supreme responsibility to exploit this opportunity. It may be the last hope to accord the two peoples their right to live in security and stability. The coming generations will not forgive us if we let it slip by.
“If I am not a partner, ask yourselves who is a partner. I am one of those who signed the Oslo agreement and was a patron of the negotiations that were conducted prior to it in secret for eight months. I supported, and I continue to support, a clear peace plan, based on the legitimacy of international law, to which we all agreed, and on the road map. I have called ceaselessly for a hudna [cease-fire] in order to enable the continuation of negotiations, and I achieved a period of calm when I was prime minister.
“I have often swum against the current, but when our public hears from Israel that there is no Palestinian partner – that is something that I cannot explain. . .
. . .The negotiations with Israel will be conducted by the PLO’s negotiations unit, on the basis of international legitimacy and the Arab [Saudi] initiative. I am unreservedly committed to the road map, to which you [Israel] appended 14 reservations. If we reach an agreement, I will be the one to sign it. If needed, I will put it to a referendum. I received 62 percent in the elections, in which I condemned violence outspokenly. I am certain that I will also succeed in getting a majority for a peace agreement.”

I think that the Bush administration will be a key, if quiet, player in what unfolds. Progress, if it is made, will happen on extremely fragile ground — but there ia an opportunity here, and success either in the near or mid-term could help generate a virtuous cycle in the Muslim world rather than the negative, cynical realities that dominate now.
This is just hopeful news — but it’s important for proponents of negotiations not to get carried away with illusions.
More later.
— Steve Clemons