Israel says Middle East peace possible in five years

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said in interviews published on Friday that the Jewish state could clinch global peace with its enemies within five years, after Arab leaders revived a peace plan.

“There is a real possibility that Israel can sign a global peace accord with its enemies within five years,” Olmert said in an interview with the mass-selling Yediot Aharonot.

Asked whether he meant “all of the Arab world”, Olmert said “Yes.”

The interviews with several of Israel’s leading dailies ahead of the Passover holiday were published after Arab leaders revived a five-year-old peace plan for comprehensive peace in the Middle East at a Riyadh summit.

The blueprint offers Israel full normalisation of relations if it withdraws from all land occupied in the 1967 war and allows the creation of a Palestinian state and the return of Palestinian refugees.

“A bloc of states is emerging that understands that they may have been wrong to think that Israel is the world’s greatest problem,” he said in an interview with the liberal Haaretz. “That is a revolutionary change in outlook.

“There are things that are happening, which have not happened in the past, which are developing and ripening,” he said, adding that Israel had to “know how to profit from this occasion”.

Israel has not accepted the Arab blueprint as it stands, saying negotiations were needed, notably on the refugee issue.

In an interview with the Maariv newspaper, Olmert said: “I have a dream—that within five years there will be a global peace accord in the Middle East.”

“We will react prudently and wisely with the aim of creating a dynamic that will reinforce the process,” he told Haaretz.

Israel currently has peace treaties with only two Arab countries—its neighbours Egypt and Jordan.

Although Israel rejected the Arab initiative when it was first unveiled in 2002, officials have said in recent weeks that the plan could be a good basis for negotiations if the clauses granting Palestinian refugees the right of return are dropped.

Israel fiercely opposes allowing refugees to return to where they lived prior to the 1948 war, arguing that the possible influx of up to four million Palestinians would effectively erase the Jewish character of the state.

But Olmert said the revived Arab peace plan had “interesting ideas”.

“We are ready to hold discussions and hear from the Saudis about their approach and to tell them about ours,” he told Haaretz.

“Saudi Arabia is the country that in the end will determine the ability of the Arabs to reach a compromise with Israel,” he said.

In an interview with the English-language Jerusalem Post, Olmert called Saudi King Abdullah a “remarkable” leader whom the Israeli premier “would like to meet. But I don’t think that such a meeting is on the agenda.”

Olmert, who formally came to power last May, has watched his ratings crash following last year’s inconclusive war against Hezbollah and a string of corruption scandals involving him and senior members of his government.

With only t2% of Israelis trusting their premier, two-thirds wanting him to resign and a majority favouring early elections, analysts say Olmert desperately needs a breakthrough in the peace process to survive politically.

His political troubles have coincided with an increased push by Israel’s main ally Washington to try and jumpstart the dormant Middle East process.—AFP

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