- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert stood shoulder to shoulder with President Bush at the White House yesterday and asserted that his nation will not “be held hostage” by the Hamas-controlled Palestinian Authority.

Mr. Olmert said that if the Hamas terrorist group refuses negotiations for peace, “we will be compelled to try a different route.”

The new Israeli leader, laying out what Mr. Bush called “bold ideas,” proposed a unilateral redrawing of West Bank borders should Hamas continue to reject negotiations and should Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, the Bush administration’s preferred point man, fail to persuade Hamas leaders to enter talks on the U.S.-backed “road map” to peace.

“Despite our sincere desire for negotiations, we cannot wait indefinitely for the Palestinians to change,” Mr. Olmert said. “We cannot be held hostage by a terrorist entity which refuses to change or to promote dialogue. If we come to the conclusion that no progress is possible, we will be compelled to try a different route.”

Mr. Bush nodded as the Israeli leader announced his proposal to take action against Hamas, which won power in parliamentary elections in January and refuses to recognize Israel’s right to exist. But in his comments, Mr. Bush stopped short of a full endorsement of the unilateral plan, saying a negotiated agreement “best serves Israelis and Palestinians and the cause of peace.”

Mr. Bush said any final status agreement “will be only achieved on the basis of mutually agreed changes.” But, he added, should the peace plan remained stalled, “the prime minister’s ideas could be an important step toward the peace we both support.”

Still, Mr. Olmert could move unilaterally, without a Palestinian peace partner or a U.S. endorsement, to remove many isolated Jewish West Bank settlements while defending major enclaves Israel intends to keep. Under the plan, a border would be drawn by 2010. Mr. Olmert said he would act “in the event that all other options may not be possible.”

In their first meeting since Mr. Olmert was elected in March — replacing Ariel Sharon, who suffered a massive stroke in January — the two leaders spoke as one on the need to press Hamas to disarm, denounce terrorism and recognize Israel.

“The Palestinian Authority headed by Hamas government must abandon the path of terrorism, dismantle the terror infrastructure, honor agreements and recognize Israel’s right to exist. By doing so, they will find us a willing partner in peace. However, we will not enter into any kind of partnership with a party which refuses to recognize our right to live in peace and security,” Mr. Olmert said.

Mr. Bush offered support for the prime minister’s desire to press forward with the road map, which calls for the creation of a Palestinian state. The president also said, “Hamas must recognize Israel’s right to exist, must abandon terror, must accept all previous agreements.”

“No country can be expected to make peace with those who deny its right to exist, and who use terror to attack its population,” he said.

But both Mr. Bush and Mr. Olmert depicted the plan for Israel’s unilateral withdrawal as a last resort.

Mr. Bush also urged Israel to reach out to Mr. Abbas, the leader of the more moderate Fatah movement, as an alternative to dealing with the Hamas-controlled Palestinian Authority. Mr. Bush said Mr. Abbas “favors and speaks out for peace and negotiations. Yet the Hamas-led Palestinian government does not. Hamas needs to make a strategic choice for peace.” However, some have said that Mr. Abbas does not have full power to negotiate for peace.

On Iran, whose radical Islamic leader advocates the destruction of Israel, Mr. Bush and Mr. Olmert agreed that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad must not be allowed to build a nuclear arsenal.

“We are determined that the Iranian regime must not obtain nuclear weapons,” Mr. Bush said. “This is a moment of truth. It is still not too late to prevent it from happening,” Mr. Olmert said.

Mr. Bush also was emphatic about what action the United States will take should Iran follow through on its threats to Israel.

“I told the prime minister what I’ve stated publicly before: Israel is a close friend and ally of the United States. And in the event of any attack on Israel, the United States will come to Israel’s aid,” Mr. Bush said, as Mr. Olmert nodded and smiled.

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