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Israeli Prime Minister Urges U.S. to Back Border Plan

Appearing before the U.S. Congress Wednesday, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert outlined his plan to finalize Israel's border, promised to negotiate with the Palestinians and called a nuclear-capable Iran "intolerable."

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    Israel's new prime minister, Ehud Olmert, came to Washington this week seeking U.S. backing for the plan on which he won election eight weeks ago: to unilaterally redraw Israel's border with the Palestinian West Bank.

    His most important meeting came yesterday, with President Bush at the White House. Olmert outlined his plan to finish building the separation barrier between Israel and the West Bank, withdraw 60,000 Jewish settlers from isolated outposts beyond the barrier, and permanently annex the larger settlement blocs with some 175,000 residents.

    Olmert described his plan at a press conference after the meeting.

    EHUD OLMERT, Prime Minister of Israel: This process of realignment would reduce friction between Israelis and Palestinians, ensure territorial contiguity for the Palestinians, and guarantee Israel's security as a Jewish state with the borders it desires.


    President Bush praised Olmert's vision, but stopped short of endorsing a unilateral redrawing of the Israeli-Palestinian border.

    GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States: Today, Prime Minister Olmert shared with me some of his ideas. I would call them bold ideas. These ideas could lead to a two-state solution if a pathway to progress on the road map is not opened in the period ahead.


    The president urged Olmert first to pursue a negotiated settlement with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.


    I believe — and Prime Minister Olmert agrees — that a negotiated final-status agreement best serves both the Israelis and the Palestinians and the cause of peace.

    So our preferred option, of course, is there to be a negotiated settlement. On the other hand, as the prime minister said, that if he's unable to find a partner in peace, if nothing can go forward, he is willing to think about ways to advance the process forward.


    Prime Minister Olmert said he would try to negotiate with Abbas, even though the radical Hamas Party now dominates the Palestinian government. But he warned he would only wait so long.


    I intend to exhaust every possibility to promote peace with the Palestinians, according to the road map. Despite our sincere desire for negotiations, we cannot wait indefinitely for the Palestinians to change.

    We cannot be held hostage by a terrorist entity which refuses to change or to promote dialogue. If we come to the conclusion that no progress is possible, we will be compelled to try a different route.


    Mr. Speaker, the prime minister of Israel.


    Today, Olmert was greeted by a rousing reception on Capitol Hill, where yesterday the House voted to eliminate virtually all funds to private aid groups working with Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. Before a joint session of Congress, the prime minister made this offer to Abbas.


    From this podium today, I extend my hand in peace to Mahmoud Abbas, the elected president of the Palestinian Authority.


    But he had harsh words for Abbas' Palestinian rival, Hamas.

    Olmert's visit comes amid renewed clashes between Israeli forces and Palestinians in Gaza and, today, the West Bank. There's also been fighting between the security forces of the two main Palestinian factions: Abbas' Fatah Party and Hamas.

    The clashes intensified recently after the Hamas-led government deployed a new 3,000-member paramilitary force into the streets of Gaza. At the same time, living conditions in the Palestinian territories continue to deteriorate after Israel and major Western donors froze all tax revenues and aid to the Palestinian Authority.

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