- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Israel at the altar

Like a bride left at the altar, Israel is waiting for a Palestinian leader to step forward to negotiate a lasting peace, Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said this week.

He told the annual Washington conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee that his country is committed to its disengagement plan. Israel will pull back to defensible lines, build its security fence on the West Bank and wait.

“How long Israel will remain disengaged is up to them,” he said, referring to the Palestinians.

Mr. Olmert called on the Palestinians to chose a new leader who is “not compromised by terror.”

“There can be no dialogue with terror. It must be fought relentlessly and defeated,” he said. “With this principle in mind, Israel has waited at the altar for a Palestinian partner to step up and do business.”

Israel needs a negotiating partner “who is not interested in exacting concessions through barbaric violence and in maintaining chaos within Palestinian society, but rather in a civilized exchange of views that will produce a better future for Palestinians and Israelis alike,” he said.

Mr. Olmert, however, held out little hope for a partner to meet that definition.

“The brutal experience of recent years has demonstrated the absence of any Palestinian statesmen,” he said, referring to almost four years of Palestinian violence. “The unfortunate reality is that Palestinian society has yet to develop leaders not tainted by terror and corruption, who can both negotiate and deliver.”

Mr. Olmert reasserted the plan proposed by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to withdraw from the Gaza Strip and most of the West Bank, close some Israeli settlements and maintain others. Critics complain that Israel still will exert military pressure in the Gaza Strip and that the West Bank plan still leaves Israel in control of land claimed by Palestinians.

Israel will ignore international criticism and accelerate the construction of its security fence, Mr. Olmert said. However, the fence is designed to be removed if the Palestinians renounce terrorism and enter into serious negotiations for peace, he added.

“Terror has built the fence, and an end to terror will unbuild it,” Mr. Olmert said.

He praised President Bush for endorsing Mr. Sharon’s plan and for rejecting Palestinian demands for the return of their refugees to Israel.

“Palestinian refugees should settle in a future Palestinian state, rather than in Israel,” he said.

Mr. Olmert also thanked the American supporters of Israel.

“The bonds between Israel and the United States, cemented in our shared values and interests, have weathered the test of time,” he said.

“I am confident that, together, hand in hand, our two countries will continue to triumph over evil and serve as shining lights unto the nations.”

Flower power

The Dutch ambassador yesterday presented Sen. Charles E. Grassley with two certificates for 10,000 tulip bulbs for two towns in Iowa that boast a rich Dutch heritage.

Ambassador Boudewijn J. van Eenennaam said the bulbs will be sent to Pella and Orange City in September and should be in bloom for next year’s tulip festivals in the towns.

“The Dutch people have a natural affinity for Iowa with its tulips and windmills, and we Dutch feel quite at home there,” he told the Iowa Republican who chairs the Senate Finance Committee.

In addition to the flower show, Pella is the home of the largest working Dutch windmill in the United States. The windmill is 135 feet tall to the top of its blades. Iowa also generates electrical power through modern wind machines.

Iowa and the Netherlands also share a strong economic relationship, the ambassador said, referring to $235 million Dutch investment in Iowa that has created more than 4,200 jobs.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@washingtontimes.com.

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