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Bush endorses Olmert's 'Convergence Plan'.

Combined news reports Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told a joint meeting of Congress on Wednesday that Israel would be a "willing partner in peace" with the Palestinians, but would draw its own borders in the West Bank should it conclude it has no negotiating partner."We cannot wait for the Palestinians forever," Olmert told members of the House and Senate gathered in the House chamber. "Our deepest wish is to build a better future for our region, hand in hand with a Palestinian partner, but if not, we will move forward, but not alone," he said, alluding to promised US support.Olmert also drew long applause for tough words condemning what he claimed to be Iran's drive to "build nuclear weapons".Olmert said the West Bank withdrawal is vital to Israel's security and the cause of peace and cannot go forward without US support.In a policy shift on Tuesday, the White House gave unexpected backing to Israel's plan to unilaterally set its borders with the Palestinians should their new Hamas leaders refuse to disarm. Although, Hamas refuses to talk with Israel before the Jewish State makes certain concessions, the resistance group has shown a more lenient position lately; nevertheless, Israel has adopted a more radical policy which drew criticism from the Palestinian leadership, aspiring to create a state for its people who have been living under the Israeli occupation for decades. Palestinian Government Spokesman Ghazi Hamed, a senior Hamas official, says Palestinians do not believe Israel is serious about negotiations, and that Olmert's plan could cripple plans for Palestinian statehood. Hamed says it is clear to Palestinians that Israel is not willing to negotiate at this time, even though Palestinian President Abbas has repeatedly offered to do so. A spokesman for President Abbas said Olmert's plan would only prolong the Arab-Israeli conflict, saying Abbas can immediately start negotiations with Israel. Meanwhile, less than a day after Palestinian factions Hamas and Fateh agreed to meet this week to try to defuse tensions in the Gaza Strip, gunmen killed at least one Hamas activist and wounded several others in a new outbreak of violence. The US president praised what he called Olmert's "bold ideas" for Israel to act on its own in the event that talks falter on the internationally backed "road map" peace plan.From the US Capitol podium on Wednesday, Olmert called on Abbas, to seek a negotiated solution. "With a genuine Palestinian partner for peace, I believe we can reach an agreement on all the issues that divide us," the Israeli leader said.If the Palestinians "ignore our outstretched hand for peace," Olmert said, "Israel will seek other alternatives to promote our future and the prospects of hope in the Middle East."Hamas' victory in January Palestinian parliamentary elections damped peace prospects because of the group's violently anti-Israel ideology. The Bush administration considers Hamas to be a terrorist organization, and has acknowledged the obstacles Israel is liable to face in trying to make peace with Abbas, who was elected separately last year.After the two men met on Tuesday, Bush said Olmert's ideas "could lead to a two-state solution if a pathway to progress on the road map is not opened in the period ahead."Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, an Abbas ally, welcomed Bush's call for negotiations. But he rejected the notion of an imposed solution."President Bush said the first option is negotiation," Erekat told The Associated Press. "There is no other option."Olmert, making his first visit to the US since winning the election in March, told Congress that Israel has learned it must give up some of its dreams in the interest of a secure future for a Jewish democratic state."We hope and pray that our Palestinian neighbors will also awaken," he said.In Occupied Jerusalem, a senior Cabinet member close to Olmert said if Hamas does not recognize Israel and renounce violence within six months Israel will move ahead with plans to unilaterally draw its final borders by 2010."If these things don't happen, we won't wait for years, but rather we will wait until the end of this year," Haim Ramon told Israel Radio. "This will be a year of diplomacy.""First negotiations, and after the negotiations, if it doesn't succeed and it becomes clear that there is no (Palestinian) partner, we will move ahead with the consolidation plan," Ramon said.Olmert has given Abbas a tall order for proving Palestinian commitment to negotiating a final deal.Fighting has intensified between Abbas Fateh loyalists and Hamas activists, and Hamas has refused to moderate its stance on Israel, raising questions about the Palestinian president's ability to deliver.Olmert told reporters he would meet with Abbas, but did not say when. In his appearance with Bush, Olmert reaffirmed his ideas for Israel's final borders: The major Jewish settlement blocs on the West Bank where most of the 250,000 settlers live would become part of Israel, with most other settlements dismantled.The plan also calls for Israel to withdraw from about 100 settlements in the West Bank and move settlers into the three large settlement blocs in the West Bank. It would also set Israel's border with the Palestinians along the lines of the controversial separation barrier. Palestinians say the plan is illegal under international law, and amounts to a land grab by Israel that will leave Palestinians without any possibility of achieving a viable state. Bush endorses Olmert's 'Convergence Plan'

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Publication:The Star (Amman, Jordan)
Date:May 24, 2006
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