- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 29, 2008

JERUSALEM (AP) | Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Monday that Israel and the Palestinians won’t be able to achieve their declared goal of forging a peace deal by the end of the year, citing conflicting claims to Jerusalem as the main obstacle.

Mr. Olmert also said Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem posed a danger to Israelis, hinting that Israel might want to cede control of these areas.

“Whoever thinks the basic pattern of life in Jerusalem can continue with 270,000 Arabs in East Jerusalem must take into account that there will be bulldozers, trucks and private cars, and no way of preventing terror attacks of this kind,” Mr. Olmert said.

Israel captured the eastern part of Jerusalem from Jordan in the 1967 Mideast war and annexed it. Palestinians claim the eastern sector as capital of their future state, and the fate of the disputed city - home to sites holy to Islam, Judaism and Christianity - lies at the crux of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

At an international conference in the U.S. in November, Mr. Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas set a year-end target for reaching a final peace deal that would resolve the decades-old conflict.

President Bush has said he hoped to broker a final peace agreement by the end of 2008, just before he leaves office, and U.S. officials have repeatedly pressed Israeli and Palestinian negotiators.

On Monday, Mr. Olmert said that target was unrealistic because of disputes over Jerusalem.

“I don’t believe that understandings that will include Jerusalem can be reached this year,” an official present at the closed-door meeting of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee quoted Mr. Olmert as saying.

The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because the committee does not formally release details of its meetings to the media.

Abbas aide Nabil Abu Rdeneh said Mr. Olmert’s comments showed Israel had given up on its promise.

“This is a clear violation of the Annapolis agreement,” he said. “We still have six months, and that means Israel isn’t serious about reaching an agreement according to Annapolis and Bush’s vision.”

In Washington, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said Mr. Bush’s goal was to get as much accomplished as possible.

“I think we’ve always said that we wouldn’t be able to get a final peace deal in terms of everything being resolved, but we would have this way forward that would outline all the steps that they would have to take to move forward,” Mrs. Perino said. “That’s what we’ve been working towards.”

Palestinians account for about one-third of the 750,000 people who live in Jerusalem. They are not Israeli citizens, but have access to Israeli social benefits and can move throughout Israel, unlike the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza.

That freedom of movement has allowed for a string of attacks in the city this year, including two cases in which Palestinian attackers have rammed construction vehicles into buses and cars in downtown Jerusalem.

Mr. Olmert told the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that such attacks could not be prevented as long as Palestinians remain under Israeli control in the city - hinting that the solution might be to give up control of neighborhoods where they live.



Click to Read More

Click to Hide