Olmert says wants talks on Arab peace initiative
LONDON (Reuters) - Israel said on Wednesday it was prepared to make "painful concessions" to achieve peace with the Palestinians, working via an Arab initiative drawn up earlier this year and supported by Egypt and Jordan.
But Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, writing in Britain's Guardian newspaper, said any talks must take the form of discussion rather than an ultimatum.
"I take the offer of full normalization of relations between Israel and the Arab world seriously; and I am ready to discuss the Arab peace initiative in an open and sincere manner," Olmert wrote.
"Working with our Jordanian and Egyptian partners, and hopefully other Arab states, we must pursue a comprehensive peace with energy and vision.... But the talks must be a discussion, not an ultimatum."
His remarks were published a day after the 40th anniversary of the Six Day War, when Israel defeated Egypt, Jordan and Syria within a week, capturing the Sinai peninsula, Golan Heights, Gaza Strip and West Bank, including Arab East Jerusalem.
The Arab peace plan, endorsed at a summit in March, offers Israel normal relations with the Arab world in return for a Palestinian state and full withdrawal from the land seized in the 1967 war.
Olmert has previously said he is willing to sit down and discuss the Arab initiative, but there has been little progress towards that goal, with Israeli-Palestinian tensions at a peak in recent weeks thanks to increased violence in Gaza.
Israel said on Wednesday that a summit between Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas scheduled for Thursday and expected to discuss aspects of Palestinian statehood had been postponed at the Palestinians' request. Palestinian officials said several agreements had to be settled before talks convened.
Writing in a column published alongside Olmert's, Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh said if Israel was serious about peace, it had to recognize "the basic rights of our people", including the right of refugees who fled or were driven out by Israel when it was founded in 1948 to return.
"In the 1967 war, Israel conquered the land of Palestine but it did not conquer the people... The 1967 war has over 40 years engendered successive wars and destabilization of the Middle East," Haniyeh wrote.
For the climate to change, he said, Israel had to withdraw from all lands occupied in 1967, dismantle all the settlements in the West Bank, where around 250,000 Jews live among 2.4 million Palestinians, free all 11,000 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails and recognize the right of refugees to return.
"If Israel is serious about peace, it has to recognize these basic rights of our people," Haniyeh said. "Nothing will stop our struggle for freedom and to have all our children reunited in a fully sovereign state of Palestine, with Jerusalem as its capital."