Olmert: Economic aid to Palestinians a possibility

"If there are no talks, things will be a lot tougher."

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert does not rule out making a "substantial contribution" for economic infrastructure to a moderate Palestinian government in the future. He made the comment during a press conference for Israeli correspondents after the White House ceremony marking the launch of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

In response to a question whether Israel would agree to providing financial aid to the Palestinians, as part of a donors' conference to be held in Paris in December, he said, "It's quite possible that we'll want to make another substantial donation to the Palestinians, not necessarily in cash, that will strengthen the economic infrastructure to a moderate Palestinian government in the Palestinian Authority.

"Globes": Will you agree to attend the donors' conference in Paris?

Olmert: "This is a conference at the foreign ministers level, so my participation isn't on the agenda. Israel was not invited to participate at this conference. If it's invited, we'll consider it favorably."

Olmert said that Israel "will be happy" to help in any matter regarding the Palestinian economy. He said that Israel attached great importance to strengthening the Palestinians' economic infrastructure. Israel is already providing critical aid to the Palestinian Authority, including the collection of taxes for it, and transferring them to trustees. "Although this is their money, if we didn’t collect on their behalf, the Palestinians wouldn’t see a dime," he said.

Olmert tried to calm fears that the very existence of the conference meant a built-in Israeli willingness to make concessions. In response to a question, he said that the issue of Israeli sovereignty over the Temple Mount was not up for discussion. "I don’t think that we've done anything to hint that we're prepared to compromise over the Temple Mount."

Olmert responded heatedly to questions about comments by Palestinian officials regarding their objections to recognizing Israel as a Jewish state. "We'll hold the negotiations with the Palestinians on the factual basis that Israel is the national home of the Jewish people, whether the Palestinians accept this now, or whether they'll come to terms with it in the future," he said.

Olmert stressed the linkages between each stage of the road map. It's impossible to reach the end of the road map without implementing the first stages; in other words, a Palestinian commitment to fighting terrorism and instituting institutional reforms, and an Israeli commitment to remove illegal outposts and halt the expansion of settlements.

"There's a basic principle and full unequivocal agreements that there's a difference between the ability to reach an agreement and the ability to implement it," said Olmert. "There will be no (Israeli) concessions if the Palestinians do not comply with the terms of the road map. This is stipulated in the road map stipulates and agreed to by the Americans and Israelis… Therefore, reaching an agreement in itself does not mean its immediate implementation."

Olmert added that the majority of the Israeli public, and certainly most MKs, support the government's measures that led to the Annapolis conference. The public understands that there will be tough negotiations with the Palestinians, but that if there are no talks, things will be a lot tougher. He dismissed claims that his low level of public support was liable to weaken the Annapolis initiative because "the coalition in Israeli is managed in a stable manner and will continue as such."

Commenting on Syria, Olmert said, "The Syrians came to Annapolis because of our policies. The Americans asked whether we had a position regarding Syria's participation at the conference, and we replied that we supported inviting them. I'm pleased that they came, especially given the angry and aggressive response by Iran. I was pleased by Syria's response to the Iranian criticism."

Regarding Gaza, Olmert said, "We're not restraining ourselves. Quite a few Hamas activists have been killed there in the past few days at our initiative. If necessary, we'll take further action there."

Olmert concluded, "The Annapolis conference was an important event, but it's not necessary to lose perspective. Bottom line, in our circumstances it should not be ridiculed."

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on November 29, 2007

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2007

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