Bush Gives a Boost to Olmert’s Plans For Israel Border

Daily News Article   —   Posted on May 24, 2006

(by Benny Avni, NYSun.com) UNITED NATIONS – President Bush yesterday gave a strong boost to Prime Minister Olmert’s plans, praising his guest’s ideas on redrawing Israel’s borders and dealing with the terrorist group Hamas.

Mr. Olmert’s “bold ideas” are “an important step toward the peace we both support,” Mr. Bush said. While the two leaders said they preferred diplomacy in dealing with the Palestinian Arabs, both said that, in lieu of a credible partner, Israel might advance the process by taking unilateral steps.

On another issue, Mr. Bush vowed to defend Israel against an Iranian threat, saying the mullahs are refusing to negotiate “in good faith.”

America is “on the cusp” of going to the U.N. Security Council, where sanctions could be set in motion, he added. But although the world shares “a common goal” – preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons – it is hard to “get anything out of the Security Council” without Russian and Chinese consent, he acknowledged.

Hours earlier, Iran conducted a test of its medium-range Shahab-3 missile in a move Israelis believe was designed to coincide with Mr. Olmert’s White House visit. Iran’s terrorist proxy, Hezbollah, also boasted yesterday that its rockets could hit the part of Israel that its leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, defined as “occupied northern Palestine.”

The Shahab-3 missiles Iran currently possesses, which can carry nonconventional payloads, have a range of 800 miles. Last week, however, a former Israeli military intelligence chief, Aharon Zeevi Farkash, said Iran could extend the reach of its delivery system to more than 3,100 miles, “covering all of Europe,” according to Ynet, an Israeli news Web site.

The House of Representatives passed yesterday the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act, which defines the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority as a “terrorist sanctuary.” The legislation, which passed by an overwhelming majority of 361-37, cuts off any direct or indirect American support to the authority, except for funds meant for “basic human health needs.”

The Palestinian Authority’s prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas, said yesterday that his organization is prepared for a long-term cease-fire as long as Israel unilaterally withdraws to a border favored by Hamas.

“If Israel withdraws to the 1967 borders, peace will prevail and we will implement a cease-fire for many years,” he told the Israeli daily Ha’aretz, using an Arabic term, “houdna,” that refers to an episode in the Koran in which the Prophet Muhammad lays down his arms against his rivals so he can regain his strength and eventually defeat them.

Mr. Bush, however, renewed his pledge not to force Israel to withdraw to that cease-fire line, which existed as the country’s border with Jordan before the Six-Day War, and which Arab states and Europeans claim to be the “internationally recognized” border of the future Palestinian Arab state.

Dealing with the Hamas-led Palestinian Arabs is best done through negotiations, as outlined in the plan known as the road map, Mr. Bush said. “The only thing that worries me about the plan is that Hamas said it wants to destroy Israel,” he said. “How could you have two states side by side in peace if one of the states doesn’t recognize the other’s right to exist?”

While stopping just short of endorsing Mr. Olmert’s “convergence” plan, Mr. Bush said, speaking about the prime minister, that if he “is unable to find a partner in peace, if nothing can go forward, he is willing to think about ways to advance the process forward.”

According to Israeli press reports, Mr. Olmert, who has little faith in negotiations, plans to go through the motions for up to nine months, and then start to consolidate settlement clusters unilaterally, uprooting at least 7,000 Jews currently living in the West Bank, and drawing a border on the outline of the security barrier.

When asked about Mr. Olmert’s insistence on including inside Israel some of the large Jewish towns beyond the pre-1967 border, Mr. Bush referred a reporter to his April 14, 2004, letter to Prime Minister Sharon. Speaking of “secure and recognized borders” for Israel, that letter stated, “It is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to” the so-called green line.

“I believed it when I wrote it, and I still believe it,” Mr. Bush said yesterday.

Israel should attempt to negotiate with the Palestinian Arab leader, Mahmoud Abbas, Mr. Bush said. Mr. Olmert went out of his way to praise Mr. Abbas. Dropping a title he had used in the past – “chairman” of the Palestinian Authority – Mr. Olmert referred to Mr. Abbas as president. He also promised to make a “genuine effort” to meet with him soon. President Mubarak of Egypt said yesterday that he is preparing a “summit” meeting between Messrs. Olmert and Abbas.

Mr. Olmert, however, has said in recent interviews that since Hamas’s victory at the polls in January, Mr. Abbas has had no power to make the necessary decisions. “We can’t be held hostage by a terrorist entity that refuses to change,” the prime minister said at yesterday’s press conference. “If we conclude that no progress is possible, we will be compelled to try a different route.”

Reprinted here with permission from The New York Sun. Visit the website at NYSun.com.