Abbas: I'll work toward peace with any elected Israeli prime minister
Official: Olmert to seek peace deal with Palestinians before leaving office, ensure his successor is on board.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told reporters on Thursday that he would continue to work toward peace with any elected Israeli prime minister.
Speaking in Tunisia, Abbas added that he would continue to hold talks with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert until he is replaced.
Abbas' comments came one day after Olmert announced that he would not contend in the upcoming Kadima primary, scheduled for September 17, and that he would consequently resign to allow his successor to form a new government. Until then, Olmert will remain in his post, enabling him to push ahead with the peace negotiations, possibly for months.
Earlier Thursday, an official close to Olmert said that the premier would try to reach an agreement in peace talks with Abbas before a new government takes office.
The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the prime minister intended to "reach an agreement with the Palestinians during the time he has left."
"Any agreement he reaches with the Palestinians won't be a personal agreement and he will make sure that the [new] Kadima leadership is briefed and on board," the official added.
Meanwhile, a Palestinian official said on Wednesday that Israeli and Palestinian negotiators plan to continue talks toward a peace deal despite Olmert's announcement on Wednesday.
"We decided today that we are going to continue pursuing to reach an agreement before the end of the year," the negotiator, Saeb Erekat, told reporters after Israeli and Palestinian officials met U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
Abbas sees Olmert's decision to resign as an "internal Israeli matter" and will work with his successor, a spokesman said.
"This is an internal Israeli matter. The Palestinian Authority deals with the prime minister of Israel, regardless if he is Olmert or somebody else," said Abbas spokesman Nabil Abu Rdainah. "The concern of the Palestinian authority is to have an Israeli prime minister who is committed to peacemaking."
Palestinian lawmaker Hanan Ashrawi on Thursday said: "I have never looked at Olmert as a great gift for peace or the great savior and therefore I don't feel that his political demise is the end of the peace process."
"This issue is much larger than one person. Individuals make a difference but at the same time there are parties involved, national policies involved," said Ashrawi, who is also a former spokeswoman for Palestinian negotiators.
Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri called Olmert's announcement "a victory" for the Islamist group, which controls the Gaza Strip.
A White House spokesman said President George W. Bush talked with the Olmert Wednesday just before the prime minister announced his decision to resign in September.
Spokesman Gordon Johndroe said Bush intends to work closely with Olmert until that time, and wishes him well. "We will continue to work on a deal before the end of the year," Johndroe said when asked how Olmert's departure would affect the fragile peace process.
Johndroe added that Bush has appreciated Olmert's friendship, leadership and efforts toward peace.