Abbas, Olmert say deal still possible despite obstacles

March 27th, 2008 - 7:57 am ICT by admin  

Jerusalem, March 27 (DPA) Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas have said that they hope to reach a peace deal this year. Their separate statements came Wednesday despite bitter arguments over Palestinian rocket attacks from Gaza and ongoing Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank.

The violence in and from Hamas-ruled Gaza and the Israeli construction in Jewish settlements it wants to keep as part of a future peace deal, especially in and near Jerusalem, have cast a dark shadow over the talks since they were revived in November after a seven-year freeze in the peace process.

Israel was “absolutely determined” to continue its peace talks with Abbas, Olmert told foreign correspondents in Jerusalem, adding that he believed an “outline” of a two-state solution could be achieved in 2008.

He ruled out talks with Hamas, saying that Israel would instead deal with the radical Islamic movement in other, “very painful” ways. Both he and Abbas could find “many” excuses to stop the negotiations but should concentrate on continuing talks.

Abbas earlier told a joint news conference in Ramallah with Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov that his West Bank administration was continuing negotiations with Israel on all the core issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including the status of Jerusalem.

The Olmert government has sought to postpone talks on Jerusalem, fearing that a key coalition partner, the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, may follow through on threats to leave the government if the prime minister made compromises on what is considered the most sensitive bone of contention.

“There are many obstacles on the road,” Abbas said. “Our hope is that these obstacles will be removed, and we are all anxious to achieve results within (2008).”

“There are ongoing meetings between the negotiating teams and on all levels, and they discuss all issues - Jerusalem, settlements, borders, water and security,” he said.

The chief negotiators, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and former Palestinian premier Ahmed Qureia, met on March 18 for the first time since Abbas suspended negotiations over the killing of more than 125 Palestinians during a five-day Israeli military operation in Gaza.

The offensive, which started at the end of February, was in retaliation for a surge in rocket attacks by Gaza militants.

Qureia, protesting Israeli construction in East Jerusalem, however, had called the March 18 meeting “unofficial”.

The Gaza Strip and southern Israel have witnessed relative calm for nearly three weeks, with militants easing their rocket fire and Israel toning down its air strikes and military incursions.

But Wednesday, Palestinian militants again fired at least 22 rockets at Israeli communities near Gaza, an Israeli army spokeswoman in Tel Aviv said. Two Israelis were lightly injured and some nine others treated for shock in the town of Sderot in the evening. The radical Islamic Jihad faction and Popular Resistance Committees claimed responsibility.

After talks Thursday in Jordan, Abbas was to attend the annual Arab League summit this weekend in Damascus and said that he would ask its members to “support our negotiating position with Israel”.

Arab League Secretary-General Amr Mussa told a news conference in Damascus ahead of the summit that the Arab bloc would welcome a Yemeni initiative seeking to reconcile the rift between Abbas’ Fatah faction and the rival Hamas.

The summit “will adopt the initiative and will include a clause about it in the final statement of the summit,” Mussa said.

A senior aide to Abbas earlier told reporters in Ramallah that Abbas would not renew contacts with Hamas unless the militant movement first undid its June “coup” in the Gaza Strip.

The Yemeni initiative, which calls for a reversal of the Gaza takeover as well as early elections in the Palestinian territories, should be implemented and not be used as the basis for “starting a new and redundant dialogue, which we consider a waste of time,” Nabil Amr said.

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