Ehud Olmert, the prime minister, and senior members of his cabinet, which was sworn into office last week, have said the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority must renounce the use of violence, recognise Israel and respect previous mutual accords for the talks to become a possibility.

If Hamas does not accept those terms, Olmert will then push on with his so-called convergence plan under which Israel intends to keep parts of the occupied West Bank regarded by the Palestinians as an integral part of their promised future state.

"We will wait for a month, two months, three months, six months, and if we see no change, then we will probably move forward even without an agreement," Olmert told a group of visiting foreign mayors on Tuesday night.

"If the Palestinians do not accept these conditions, Israel will  have to determine its borders by itself."

Olmert has made fixing the borders the prime task of his  administration, with or without agreement from the Palestinians.

Settler pullout

Under his plan, Olmert would pull about 70,000 Jewish settlers out of the occupied West Bank.

In return, he would take permanently the large blocs where  most of the 250,000 settlers live.

Olmert is set to pull about 70,000
Jewish settlers out of West Bank

Tzipi Livni, the Israeli foreign minister, said: "This does not signify that Israel is going to leave [parts of  the West Bank] in six months, but I understand that Mr Olmert is  laying out the path which he intends to follow.

"For Israel, it would be better to have international agreement, but the prospects of having a Palestinian partner appear sadly  non-existent."

Haim Ramon, justice minister, was the first Israeli official to set a deadline for the Hamas government to renounce violence and recognise Israel.

"Through the end of this year, 2006, there will be honest attempts to talk to the other side," Ramon told Army Radio.

"If it becomes clear by the end of the year that we really have no partner, and the international community is also convinced of this, then we will take our fate into our own hands and not leave our fate in the hands of our enemies," he said.

Palestinian reaction

Reacting to the statements, Ghazi Hamad, a Palestinian government spokesman, said: "Haim Ramon's assertion that Israel is ready for negotiations is no more than an attempt to trick the public.

Haniya's government faces
pressure to recognise Israel

"They don't want negotiations, and even if there were negotiations, they would not give us our rights."

He repeated that Hamas was prepared to grant a long-term truce if Israel would agree to retreat to the lines it held before the 1967 war - a condition Israel categorically rejects.

Saeb Erikat, a Palestinian negotiator, said Israel had a negotiating partner in Abbas, widely known as Abu Mazen.

"President Abu Mazen stands ready to immediately resume permanent status negotiations," he said. "At the same time, we urge the [Hamas-led Palestinian] government to accept the two-state solution, but this should not stand in the way."

Hamas says it has no objection to Abbas starting political negotiations with Israel.

Khaled Suleiman, the spokesman for Hamas MPs at the Palestinian Legislative Council, said the movement was not a stumbling block to negotiations.

 

International peacemakers say Israel cannot draw its final borders on its own.