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November 28, 2006
Olmert Offers Peace, Fatah Responds As Usual

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert gave what had been billed as a major policy speech, but to little practical effect. Olmert urged Palestinians to agree to end hostilities in order to negotiate for a long-term peace and offered mass prisoner releases as an incentive, but the Palestinians responded with rocket attacks from Gaza:

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, trying to build on a shaky cease-fire in the Gaza Strip, on Monday offered Palestinians a series of incentives, including negotiations and a prisoner release, if they turned away from violence.

The offer was made in what was billed as a major policy speech, but it contained little that was new. The timing was important, though, because Mr. Olmert and the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, are eager to bolster their own political positions, begin a serious dialogue and stop a bloody cycle of violence. ...

In his speech, Mr. Olmert appealed to Palestinians to turn away from militant resistance and make a commitment to peaceful negotiations for an independent state. “You, the Palestinian people,” he said, “are standing in these days at an historic crossroads.”

If the Palestinians can form a new unity government that satisfies international standards and release a captured Israeli soldier, Mr. Olmert said, he will respond by immediately meeting with Mr. Abbas, releasing hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, reducing checkpoints and moving toward a further withdrawal of Israeli settlers from the occupied West Bank.

He promised that Israel would also then release to the Palestinian Authority the $50 million a month in taxes and duties that Israel has collected for the Palestinians but withheld — more than $500 million so far this year — contending that Hamas, the governing Palestinian faction, is a terrorist group.

Unfortunately for Olmert, Hamas isn't the only terrorist group in the territories. The new rocket attacks on Sderot did not come from Hamas or Islamic Jihad, but from the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade. The AAMB belongs to Fatah, the same faction that Mahmoud Abbas leads -- the same Abbas that Olmert praised as a partner for peace. Either Olmert has seriously deluded himself on Abbas' intentions, or he's picked a really weak sister for his plans to end the hostilities.

None of the Palestinian factions gave Olmert much of an audience. Hamas complained that Olmert wouldn't commit to the 1967 borders, even though Hamas has repeatedly said that wouldn't convince them to recognize Israel anyway. They also rejected the proposed prisoner releases as inadequate. No one knows how the Islamic Jihad leadership took the speech, although they appeared to take a day off and gave the rocket launchers to AAMB terrorists instead.

Although Olmert stayed close to other public offers, his office hinted at more movement from the Israelis. They characterized the 2002 Saudi proposal positively, a first for the Israelis, even though it also calls for a return to the 1967 borders. The so-called "right of return" also will be a no-sale to Israelis, although Olmert explicitly called for land swaps to resolve the issue. The effort and enthusiasm for peacemaking appears striking; Olmert seems rather suddenly eager for a peace settlement. Has he decided that the US might not be so reliable in the next couple of years, given the pressure here to pull back from our commitments in the region? Or does he think that the only way to remain in office is to achieve something that has escaped Israeli leaders for the last 58 years?

Whatever Olmert's motivation, he hasn't been rewarded with any movement from his enemies. Given their history, we can expect the Palestinians not to miss this opportunity to miss another opportunity.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at November 28, 2006 4:44 AM

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