Skip to comments.Blair wins commitment for Mideast talks
Posted on 09/10/2006 3:24:30 PM PDT by NormsRevenge
RAMALLAH, West Bank - Prodded by Britain's visiting leader, the Israeli prime minister and Palestinian president said Sunday they are ready to resume contacts without conditions a small step that many people hope could lead to resuming peace talks.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair also tried to draw Hamas into peace efforts, but the militant Islamic group that controls the Palestinian government rejected his condition that it first renounce violence and recognize Israel.
Despite Hamas' tough stance, the readiness of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to meet was the first sign of movement in peacemaking in months.
"For the past months, the situation has gone backwards and not forwards," Blair said at a news conference. But now, he added, "there is window of opportunity, even if it does seem very bleak."
Standing alongside the British leader, Abbas said he was prepared to sit down with Olmert.
"We are ready immediately for serious negotiations to end the conflict," Abbas said. "I am ready to meet Prime Minister Ehud Olmert without conditions."
Israel's government said Olmert would work to bring about the meeting soon.
The breakthrough was an upbeat note after weeks of intensified conflict between Israel and the Palestinians as well as the Jewish state's 34-day war with Hezbollah in Lebanon.
It also provided a welcome boost for Blair, whose woes at home including harsh criticism of his Mideast policies and alliance with Washington forced him to announce plans last week to step down as prime minister within a year.
Olmert, who was elected last spring, and Abbas were on the verge of holding their first working meeting in June when Palestinian militants tunneled into Israel from the Gaza Strip and captured an Israeli soldier. That derailed the meeting and sparked a broad Israeli offensive in Gaza, where violence continues.
Palestinians said a teenager was killed and another wounded Sunday when an Israeli tank fired a shell in southern Gaza. Israel's military said soldiers fired at Palestinians suspected of planting a bomb.
After Israel's war with Hezbollah ended Aug. 14, hopes for dialogue with the Palestinians seemed even dimmer.
Olmert insisted there could be no talks before the release of the captive soldier, while Abbas demanded an Israeli commitment to release Palestinian prisoners.
But in talks with Blair on Saturday, Olmert dropped his demands and declared he was ready to sit down with the Palestinian leader without conditions.
Olmert had begun calling publicly for talks with Abbas last week after shelving plans for a large-scale, unilateral pullback from large parts of the West Bank. But Israeli and Palestinian officials said Blair's efforts were helpful in bringing them together.
Both sides declined to say when the meeting might take place or what would be on the agenda. But they made clear the two leaders expected to go beyond formalities.
Israel is likely to push for the release of the soldier, Cpl. Gilad Shalit, who was taken by militants linked to Hamas. The Palestinians will likely seek help in easing tough economic conditions in the Gaza Strip and urge Olmert to free some of the thousands of prisoners held by Israel.
"It must be a real working meeting, but we should not expand expectations," said Palestinian lawmaker Saeb Erekat, a confidant of Abbas.
Olmert's spokeswoman, Miri Eisin, said Israel is interested in bolstering Abbas, who is locked in a power struggle with Hamas.
"It's important to show support for moderate voices in the Palestinian community," she said.
Eisin said Israel is prepared to take unspecified "creative" actions that go beyond humanitarian gestures. But she ruled out a Palestinian prisoner release until Shalit returns home.
Israeli Vice Premier Shimon Peres told Blair that if the soldier was freed, Israel might consider a redeployment of its troops in the northern West Bank, according to a statement from Peres' office. It did not give details.
Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said peace talks with the Palestinians based on the internationally backed "road map" peace plan are out of the question as long as Hamas remains committed to violence.
"In the first stage (of the plan), there is a cessation of war and the disarming of terror groups," she told Channel 2 TV. "It also is the opinion of the international community that a Palestinian state can't be a terror state."
Israel and the West have branded Hamas, which is sworn to Israel's destruction, a terrorist group and have been boycotting it since it swept Palestinian legislative elections in January. But they consider Abbas an acceptable channel for communications.
Abbas, who leads the rival Fatah party, has been urging Hamas to join him in a "unity" government. He hopes a coalition would force Hamas to soften its ideology and help lift painful economic sanctions. Abbas headed to Gaza later Sunday to begin a new round of talks.
Blair welcomed Abbas' efforts, saying the world should fully restore contacts with the Palestinians if Hamas agrees to a unity government.
But he said such a coalition would have to accept conditions set by the international sponsors of the "road map" a renunciation of violence, recognition of Israel and acceptance of previous peace agreements.
"If such a government is formed, I believe it is right that the international community deal with such a government," said Blair, who has refused to meet with Hamas politicians on the trip.
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said the group was ready to form a government with Fatah, but "not according to standards that are dictated." He called the demands "biased, unjust."
While Blair's demands reiterated Western policy, his presence in the West Bank alongside Abbas gave it added heft. Blair's aides said he was trying to boost Abbas and show that Hamas could gain from softening its views.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair, left, shakes hands with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, following a press conference at Abbas's headquarters in the West Bank town of Ramallah, Sunday Sept. 10, 2006. Blair arrived in the West Bank town of Ramallah on Sunday hoping to push for a renewal of stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)
British Prime Minister Tony Blair, left, shakes hands with Israeli Vice Premier and Nobel Laureate Shimon Peres in Jerusalem Sunday Sept. 10, 2006. Blair said on Sunday the world should restore contacts with the Palestinians if the ruling Hamas group forms a government with more moderate factions. But Hamas immediately rejected his conditions for establishing dialogue with such a government _ that it renounce violence and recognize Israel. (AP Photo/Peter Macdiarmid/ Pool)
A Palestinian man takes part in a demonstration during British Prime Minister Tony Blair's visit to the West Bank city of Ramallah September 10, 2006. Blair said on Sunday the international community should deal with a future Palestinian unity government if it breaks with policies of the boycotted Hamas-led administration. REUTERS/Abed Omar Qusini (WEST BANK)
Those SOB's in his own party arre trying to force him to resign.
Gordon Brown, a favorite to succeed Tony Blair as prime minister, seen here on 08 September 2006, denied plotting to overthrow Blair as he sought to calm a week of turmoil over the leadership.(AFP/POOL/File)
Yeah, that sissy boy looking dimbulb.
Wedding or funeral, I wonder?