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November 10, 2006
What's Olmert Got For Sale?

Ehud Olmert made it clear that he wants to sit down with Mahmoud Abbas and start serious negotiations. He told an interviewer that he would meet with the Palestinian Authority president at any time or place for talks, and that Abbas didn't know how far Olmert would go to achieve peace:

Three days ahead of his trip to Washington D.C., Prime Minister Ehud Olmert pledged on Thursday night to make substantive offers to Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas.

"I am ready day and night, I am ready anytime, any place, without preconditions to sit down and talk. He [Abbas] will be surprised how far we are prepared to go," Olmert said in a public interview with Sky's Adam Boulton at the Conference for Export and International Cooperation in Tel Aviv.

"I can offer him a lot," he added, but did not elaborate. The two leaders have not met officially since Olmert took office last spring.

Well, perhaps Israelis might also be surprised at how far Olmert might be willing to go. This rather cryptic message makes it sound like Olmert has a major initiative planned, one that Abbas might find difficult to reject. Olmert made it clear that he believes Abbas is the partner for peace in the Palestinian territories, saying that Abu Mazen was a decent and trustworthy man who opposed terror.

Obviously, Olmert wants to build Abbas up as a partner for peace with Israelis inclined towards skepticism on this point. The Israelis have seen Abbas make a lot of speeches in which he declares that he yearns for peace, but the terrorists of his own faction continue their attacks on Israelis as well as Palestinians of other factions. Unfortunately, as Olmert certainly realizes, Abbas is as good as it gets for peace partners in the PA. Israelis may not make much of a distinction on that score, and Olmert is trying his best to make the sale.

Olmert supports Abbas' efforts to form a government of technocrats in order to form a power base that will accept a two-state solution, but Olmert's explicit support probably damages Abbas politically. To counter this, Olmert has declared that he will many trade Palestinian prisoners for captured IDF soldier Gilad Shalit, but only if Abbas makes the deal with him. Olmert wants to show that Abbas can win back these arrested Palestinians but that Hamas cannot be any kind of negotiating partner at all.

Will this work? Perhaps, but it seems unlikely. Even if Olmert has gauged Abbas correctly, right now Abbas has only moderate power to effect any changes. Hamas has Shalit and will not allow Abbas to win all the credit for the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners. Olmert may never get a chance to show his hand -- and he may just have a pair of deuces, given his political support at home.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at November 10, 2006 5:29 AM

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