NEW YORK - Visiting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said
Sunday that the newly appointed moderate Palestinian government could
lead to the renewal of peace talks which have been stalled for nearly
The new government will allow the normalization of ties between
Israel and the Palestinians and permit the Jewish state to take a
series of steps to alleviate life for Palestinians in the West Bank,
Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas had earlier Sunday swore in his
new Western-backed cabinet and immediately outlawed fighters of the
rival Hamas movement, which took over the entire Gaza Strip on Friday,
routing Abbas's Fatah forces.
"We will be ready to discuss with Abbas the political horizon for
what will eventually become the basis for a permanent agreement between
us and the Palestinians," Olmert said in a speech before the conference
of presidents of major American Jewish organizations in New York.
Olmert said that he was ready to renew regular contacts with the
Palestinian president in order "to resolve the outstanding daily issues
and move forward to finding ways to solve grander issues."
Israel was also ready to release over 600 million dollars in
Palestinian tax money which Israel had collected and withheld following
the rise to power of Hamas more than a year ago.
Olmert also said Israel would ease travel restrictions across the
West Bank, where the army has deployed hundreds of roadblocks in a bid
to hamper the movement of militants.
The international community has welcomed the new cabinet led by
Salam Fayyad which is widely expected to meet the West's conditions to
lift a 15-month long crunching economic and diplomatic boycott slapped
after Hamas assumed power more than a year ago.
The conditions include recognition of Israel, renouncing violence and agreeing to abide by past interim peace deals.
The United States has already announced its intention to renew the badly-needed financial aid to the Palestinian Authority.
Olmert had voiced cautious optimism over chances of renewing talks
with the Palestinians, although a senior official emphasized they would
only pertain to the West Bank, where the new cabinet has control.
"A reality has been created in recent days which we haven't had in
a long time for diplomatic steps with the evolving Palestinian
Authority. We intend to work with all our strength to realize this
opportunity as much as we can," he told reporters on board his plane.
Peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians broke down in July
2000, and US and international initiatives since then have failed to
kick start the process.
The premier earlier met United Nations Secretary General Ban
Ki-moon, who expressed concern over the deteriorating humanitarian
conditions in the already-impoverished Gaza following the bloody
Some 80 percent of the 1.5 million Gazans depend on foreign aid.
Israel closed down all of the crossings into Gaza, including the
Rafah crossing between Egypt and Gaza, following the violent clashes,
thus raising fears of a humanitarian disaster in the impoverished area.
But it has said it will continue providing electricity and water to
Gaza, with one official saying that Israel will "find some sort of
mechanism that would allow food and medical supplies to enter Gaza"
Olmert was quoted as telling Ban that "Israel will take into
consideration all the humanitarian needs in Gaza. We will not stand
idly by and see the execution of innocent people."
Olmert will nevertheless have to tackle during his talks Israel's
response to the creation of a radical Islamist entity in Gaza led by
Iranian- and Syrian-backed Hamas, on the Jewish state's doorstep.
Their meeting came only hours after militants in southern Lebanon
fired a salvo of rockets against northern Israel, causing no casualties
but adding further tension to the Middle East crisis.
Olmert described the rocket attack as "very disturbing," and said
in his speech it was carried out by "a Palestinian faction affiliated
to Al-Qaeda or the Islamic Jihad which want to create a provocation in
order to deflect attention from the events in Gaza."
Besides the unfolding Palestinian events, Olmert touched on several
other regional issue during his talks, including Iran's controversial
Ban and Olmert also discussed the implementation of UN Security
Council Resolution 1701 that ended last year's war in Lebanon between
Israel and the Shiite Hezbollah militia, which Israel fears is
Olmert urged Ban to expand the mandate of the multi-national force
in southern Lebanon in order to prevent Hezbollah's strengthening in
southern Lebanon and "prevent arms smuggling from Syria to Hezbollah."
Olmert will head to Washington on Monday ahead of a summit with President George W. Bush at the White House on Tuesday.
- AFP /ls