Poll: Most Israelis oppose convergence
Some 56 percent of Israelis oppose Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's convergence plan, according to a new Haaretz-Dialog poll. The poll results were released as Olmert was meeting with King Abdullah II of Jordan, who also reportedly opposes the plan.
The poll, which questioned a representative sample of 515 respondents, found that only 37 percent of Israelis support the plan, which calls for a massive unilateral withdrawal in the West Bank, while 7 percent are undecided. Unsurprisingly, most of the supporters were people who had voted for one of the two main coalition parties, Kadima and Labor. But a whopping 83 percent of people who voted for Shas, the third-largest coalition party, said that they oppose the plan.
Despite the widespread opposition to the plan, however, 51 percent of the public said they believed that it would be implemented, compared to only 32 percent who thought that it would not be carried out. This belief was shared by both supporters and opponents of the plan.
At his meeting with Abdullah yesterday, which took place at the king's palace in Amman, Olmert assured the Jordanian leader that Israel would prefer to reach a negotiated solution with the Palestinians and promised to meet with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas soon. Only if a negotiated solution proved impossible would Israel proceed with unilateral steps, he said.
But according to Israeli sources, Olmert also told the king that if Jordan really wanted serious negotiations between the sides, it must work with the Egyptians and help to create a partner. "Pressure the Palestinians to accept the Quartet's principles [recognizing Israel, abandoning terror and accepting previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements] and to implement the road map [peace plan], and we'll begin negotiations immediately," the Israeli prime minister said.
Abdullah, for his part, expressed grave concern about Olmert's plan to unilaterally draw Israel's border if efforts to resume peace talks failed, saying that such a move could undermine Jordan's stability by driving Palestinian refugees into Jordan or empowering Islamic militants inside the kingdom.
Olmert tried to reassure the king by promising that any future moves regarding Israel's final borders would be made in consultation with Jordan, as well as with Egypt and the United States, since Jordanian stability is also an Israeli interest.
During a private meeting that lasted about 45 minutes, the two leaders also discussed issues such as strategic cooperation between Israel and Jordan and the assassination of Iraqi terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi earlier in the day . After the private meeting, they held a working meeting with their aides, with this session focusing primarily on economic issues, such as free trade manufacturing zones and the construction of a joint airport that would serve both Eilat and Aqaba.
After the meeting, the leaders gave brief statements to the press. The statements contained no references either to the killing of Zarqawi or the convergence plan, however, and they declined to take questions from reporters.
Flanked by Israeli and Jordanian flags on a hot day outside the palace, Abdullah said that there could be no substitute for a negotiated solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
"We emphasized Jordan's position that a two-state solution is the only solution that we should seek. It is a solution that must be achieved through bilateral Israeli-Palestinian negotiations that are based on the road map," the king said, referring to an internationally backed peace plan outlining steps for the creation of a Palestinian state.
Jordan, he added, had promised to help Israel and the Palestinians to achieve peace, and he and Olmert had agreed to stay in close contact for this purpose over the coming weeks.
Abdullah also expressed concern over the "deteriorating economic and humanitarian situation" in the Palestinian Authority following a crippling economic aid boycott of the Hamas-led government. "We expressed Jordan's desire for all parties to work together to guarantee the resumption of assistance to the Palestinian people," he said.
Olmert reiterated Israel's commitment to the road map, adding: "Political stalemate in the Middle East is bad for Israel, bad for the Palestinians and bad for Jordan and the region. It is essential to avoid stagnation.
"I assured His Majesty that I intend to meet with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas in order to encourage the process that will enable us to make progress in accordance with the road map," he continued.
Olmert also said that Israel would not oppose any humanitarian aid that Jordan chose to deliver to the Palestinians, and that he was "encouraged" by Jordan and Israel's mutual "commitment against global terror."
After speaking, the two leaders shook hands, smiled and re-entered the palace together.
Prior to their meeting, both leaders were engaged in trying to drum up support among other world leaders for their respective positions on the convergence plan. Both recently visited Washington to lobby U.S. President George Bush on the issue; Abdullah has also been in touch with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, whom Olmert met with earlier this week. In addition, Abdullah traveled to Saudi Arabia on Wednesday in an apparent effort to coordinate a moderate Arab front regarding Israel-Palestinian relations, which have worsened since Hamas assumed power in the PA.