In his first political statement, Israeli interim minister Ehud Olmert said his top priority would be to shape permanent borders that guaranteed Israel a Jewish majority.

He said he preferred agreement with the Palestinians to further disengagements.
debkafile reports this was first hint of a parting of the ways between the new Israeli leader and the ailing prime minister Ariel Sharon’s unilateral disengagement concept. It followed his talks with a US official emissary on a secret visit to Jerusalem in recent days.
Addressing the Herzliya conference Tuesday night, Jan. 24, on the eve of the Palestinian election, Olmert called on Palestinian leaders to join him in negotiations on the basis of current realities. If they fail to live up to their roadmap commitment to dismantle terrorists including Hamas, he warned that Israel would defend its interests by every means and fight terrorism with increased vigor. But he stressed he preferred agreement to unilateral action.
The new Israeli leader is seeking direct talks with the Palestinians, whereas Sharon, who only met Mahmoud Abbas three times, preferred to engage them through third parties, Americans, Europeans or Egyptians.
According to debkafile‘s Washington sources, this decision evolved from a series of quiet talks he held with Robert Danin, Elliott Abrams’ deputy head of the national security council. Danin’s mission was to find out what Olmert’s intentions were for the West Bank.
The interim PM’s reply to the US official was echoed in his speech.
He declared he opposed controlling territory in which there was a Palestinian majority, and went on to say: Israel accepts the need to forgo parts of the ancestral Land of Israel, retaining security zones, large settlement blocs and places of supreme importance to the Jewish people, primarily Jerusalem which must remain under Israel sovereignty. The unauthorized outposts would be removed, he declared. But the Palestinians too must forgo some of their national dreams to achieve statehood. There must be a clear demographic line between the two entities.
A Palestinians state will embody all their national aspirations including the settlement of refugees. No Palestinian refugees will be allowed to enter Israel.
debkafile comments: Much of this endorses the Bush letter to Sharon of April 2004.
Rhetoric aside, the interim prime minister appears ready to enter into direct negotiations with the Palestinians on a final-status accord without waiting for them to make good on their roadmap undertakings, including combating terrorism. Here too he has stepped out of the Sharon mold.
While the Palestinians have always demanded peace talks, when it came to the point, they always posed unacceptable conditions. However, the Americans and the new Israeli leader appear willing to give Abu Mazen another chance, and if Hamas wins a share in government in the Wednesday election, so be it.
As for the domestic implications of Ehud Olmert’s speech, it is noteworthy that the only names he mentioned were those of the late Zionist visionary Zeev Jabotinsky, Ariel Sharon (repeatedly) and his rival, Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu, whose work as finance minister in the former government he praised. This sounded like an olive branch to Netanyahu, a turn to the right rather than the left side of the political map and a clue to the shape of the government coalition he prefers after the March election.
In his debut as Israel’s next prime minister, Olmert looked and sounded somewhat changed since he stepped into Ariel Sharon’s shoes 20 days ago.
He exhibited some of the gravitas he lacked before, speaking solemnly with measured inflections in sharp contrast to the old glib, caustic, crafty political operator. The new head of Israel’s government has clearly been worked over by professionals who performed a fast job of reinventing him and recasting him in a more statesmanlike image.

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