Olmert sets new condition for talks

Israeli PM says Palestinians must recognise Israel as "state of Jewish people".

    Erekat says Palestinians will not accept Israel as a Jewish state

    Olmert's office said he told Javier Solana, the EU's chief diplomat, that Israel insisted "the foundation for the post-Annapolis negotiations with the Palestinians be recognition of the state of Israel as the state of the Jewish people".
    Palestinian rejection


    Differences over the issue emerged this week when Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian negotiator, said Palestinians would not accept Israel as a "Jewish state".


    This assertion is seen by critics as a way for Olmert to argue against a return of refugees in a final deal. 


    Olmert is struggling to hold together his diverse governing coalition, which includes right-wingers, ahead of what both sides consider a last-ditch bid for a deal before George Bush, the US president, leaves office in January 2009.


    "We do not accept conditions of this type, not at all," Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian prime minister, told Al-Arabiya television.


    "We do not accept conditions of this type, not at all"

    Salam Fayyad,
    Palestinian prime minister

    Asked about Olmert's comments to Solana, Erekat accused the Israeli leader of asking Palestinians to meet conditions that were not set out in a 2003 "road map" charting reciprocal steps towards creating a Palestinian state alongside a secure Israel.


    "The road map asks us to commit in an unequivocal way to recognise the right of the state of Israel to exist," he said.


    Erekat said Israelis "can call themselves whatever they want - we have recognised the state of Israel".

    Settlement 'freeze'

    In the run-up to the peace summit, the Israeli media reported on Wednesday that Israel would announce a freeze on settlement construction in the West Bank


    Officials have been quoted by the media as saying that Olmert has sent officials to Washington to work out exactly what the freeze would entail.


    Israel is being urged to freeze settlements ahead of the US conference [GALLO/Getty]

    Meanwhile Erekat called on Israel to halt all settlement activity.
    "Israel cannot be selective and say we will expand in some places and not in others. Settlement activity must be frozen totally. So no games", Erekat said
    The planned freeze is thought to be a tactical one aimed at persuading key Arab states - such as Saudi Arabia - to attend the Annapolis conference due before the end of this year.
    An Israeli spokesperson refused to comment.
    David Chater, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Jerusalem, however, said the media reports on the expected freeze were just speculation.
    "The Israelis are trying to spin it as some kind of concession.

    It is no concession, this is a vital part and an obligation, a promise in the first stage of the road map.


    He pointed out that a report by the group Peace Now, released last week, says rates of expansion in the settlement were three times higher than the growth of Israel as a whole.


    This cannot be accounted for by natural growth in the population.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and Agencies


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