Prime Minister Ehud Olmert recently expressed his disappointment with the results of Israel's two unilateral withdrawals, saying that the violence that broke out in both Lebanon and the Gaza Strip in recent months convinced him that there is no point in any future unilateral moves of this kind.

In an interview with the Chinese news agency Xinhua prior to his departure yesterday for a three-day visit to China, the prime minister said that he believes in the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. In order to achieve this, he added, Israel will have to withdraw from a large part of the territories that it controls today, and "we are ready to do this."

"A year ago, I believed that we would be able to do this unilaterally," the prime minister said, referring to a withdrawal from the West Bank. "However, it should be said that our experience in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip is not encouraging. We pulled out of Lebanon unilaterally, and see what happened. We pulled out of the Gaza Strip completely, to the international border, and every day they are firing Qassam rockets at Israelis."

Olmert's conclusion from these experiences was that "under the existing circumstances, it would be more practical to achieve a two-state solution through negotiations rather than [unilateral] withdrawal."

Olmert has already said that his convergence plan, which called for a unilateral pullout from most of the West Bank, has been shelved, and he has described the withdrawals from Lebanon and the Gaza Strip as failures.