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8 August 2007
Behind the headlines: The Israeli-Palestinian political dialogue
As part of the ongoing political Israeli-Palestinian political dialogue, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert met in Jericho yesterday (Monday, 6 August) with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for discussions on issues relating to the two-state solution. The three-hour-long meeting was the first to take place on Palestinian Authority territory for seven years.
The aim of the political dialogue is to discuss fundamental issues that will lead to the establishment of a Palestinian state in accordance with the Roadmap, and the methods to achieve that goal. The two leaders addressed the need to increase efforts to expedite the establishment of necessary Palestinian institutions and the building of an effective Palestinian security force. They also discussed a series of economic issues, including the decision to establish a joint economic council. Joined by additional Israeli and Palestinian representatives, the two sides discussed security issues and means of tightening security cooperation.
In this context, PA President Mahmoud Abbas noted the importance of the recent release of Palestinian prisoners carried out by Israel, and the extent of its positive effect on the Palestinian people. He appealed to Prime Minister Olmert to release additional prisoners and to remove a group of other Palestinians from Israel's "wanted" list, including those who left the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem after the siege of April/May 2002. Prime Minister Olmert promised to consider the matter.
Prime Minister Olmert called on the Palestinian president not to renew the dialogue with Hamas, to which Mahmoud Abbas responded that he had no intention of doing so.
Prior to the meeting in Jericho between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Israeli Foreign Ministry Spokesman Mark Regev was interviewed on France 24 TV (August 6):
France 24 TV:
What is Prime Minister Ehud Olmert looking to achieve at this meeting?
I think the fact that we are managing today to hold the meeting here in Jericho, the first time in almost a decade, is an achievement in itself. The fact that the Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert can visit a
Palestinian-controlled city shows the new level of confidence - and a new level of trust.
Now, obviously I am not happy with that in itself; we have to move on from here. But today is a good day and I hope that from today, the beginning of bigger and better things.
You talk about bigger and better things. Are these talks enough to really go forward and to deal with issues such as the creation of a Palestinian state?
You have got to remember what has been achieved just in the last three to four weeks: we have had the prisoner release; we have had the resumption of the security dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians - and today the resumption of the political dialogue; economic cooperation has restarted and a lot of things are happening.
Of course, these are positive signs. The challenge that we face today, is how do we energize this process, how do we make this stronger, and how do we move forward with the joint vision of Israel and the Palestinians - two states living side by side in peace.
One point though: this in some way seems a bit academic, considering the Hamas of course are running Gaza and they do not recognize Mahmoud Abbas as the leader of all Palestinians. So, how do you move forward when that is the case?
I think that what we are trying to do in meetings like the one today is to work with the legitimate Palestinian government. We want all the Palestinians - in the West Bank, in Gaza, and the Palestinian diaspora - we want all Palestinians to understand that, through a process of reconciliation, through non-violence, through negotiations, they can achieve tangible benefits, economic benefits, security benefits, benefits in movement and so forth, as well as bringing the vision of a Palestinian state closer. The moderates can offer a future, while the extremists, those who control Gaza, those with a more fundamentalist, jihadist outlook, can really only promise more violence and political stagnation.