Olmert: Unilateral border plan is unstoppable

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert warned on Wednesday that his contested plan to set Israel’s borders on the West Bank with or without agreement from the Palestinians was unstoppable.

“My plan cannot be stopped and is the most that Israel is prepared to agree to,” he told reporters accompanying him on a state visit to Paris, where he sought to win President Jacques Chirac’s backing for his proposal.

“I prefer to reach a negotiated settlement [with the Palestinians], but if that is not the case we will apply our plan,” said the prime minister, on his first visit to Europe since his election in March.

Designed to prevent stalemate if restarting talks proves impossible, Olmert’s so-called “realignment plan” would see Israel uproot 70 000 settlers from the West Bank while cementing its hold on housing blocs where most of the quarter of a million settlers live.

Speaking ahead of talks with Olmert, Chirac appeared to reject his plan, telling reporters the aim of two states living peacefully side-by-side “implies a resumption of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority”.

A member of the French delegation later said the meeting had been “extremely friendly” and that Olmert had explained “in detail his vision for the near future to president Chirac”.

But he said Chirac—who has repeatedly said he opposes a unilateral settlement—simply “restated, and gave the reasons for, France’s overriding commitment to a negotiated settlement”.

Chirac also offered France’s help to restart the negotiating process.

Earlier, Olmert told reporters he would do all in his power to ensure talks resume with the Palestinians.

But he repeated Israel’s three pre-conditions: “An end to terrorism, the respect of all agreements between the Palestinian Authority and Israel and the recognition of Israel”.

The three principles have been rejected by the government led by Hamas, the main Islamist movement in the Palestinian territories, effectively paralysing the peace process.

Tensions have escalated further between Israel and the Palestinians following the death of eight Palestinian civilians in an explosion on a beach in the northern Gaza Strip—which prompted Hamas to end an 18-month truce.

Olmert has been campaigning hard to win Western backing for his proposal, which has received a cool reception from some Arab leaders.

United States President George Bush has called Olmert’s plan “bold” but has also told Olmert that he must first exhaust all efforts to reach an agreement with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas.

The Israeli prime minister suggested, following talks in London on Monday, that his British counterpart Tony Blair had also tacitly backed the plan.

Blair said he favoured a negotiated settlement, but accepted that talks could only resume if Israel’s conditions were met—and that otherwise Israel would “necessarily and realistically” seek to “unlock” the situation.

Olmert’s visit comes amid an unprecedented upsurge of factional violence in the Palestinian territories—pitting Hamas and Fatah militants loyal to Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas against each other—that has raised fears of civil war.

However, officials said Chirac and Olmert did not discuss ways of resuming hundreds of millions of dollars of Western aid to the Palestinians—suspended because of the refusal by Hamas to recognise Israel.

The suspension of aid has brought the Palestinian Authority to the brink of bankruptcy and is thought to have fuelled the recent explosion of violence.—AFP


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