WASHINGTON - Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has asked U.S. President George W. Bush to convince Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to accept Olmert's suggestion to establish a Palestinian state and sign a peace deal with Israel by the end of the year, Olmert told reporters Tuesday.
"We have reached the moment of decision, and now we need to decide. We don't need months for that," said Olmert, who met with Bush during a farewell visit to the White House on Monday. "The decision is tough, but I am ready to make it and hope that the other side will make it."
Olmert said he told Bush his proposal to Abbas was more far-reaching than any previous offer the Palestinians have received from Israel. He said that time was pressing because the American administration and Israeli government would soon be replaced, and Abbas is due to complete his term on January 9.
Bush wants to reach an agreement, but is doubtful one can be reached in the next few weeks since Abbas has expressed his opposition. The Palestinian leader will be invited soon to his own farewell meeting with Bush, who is expected to discuss the possibility of reaching a peace deal and the future of PA rule.
"I want to sign a peace agreement with the Palestinians," Olmert told reporters Tuesday. "This isn't a discussion that began in the last few weeks. I've been speaking with them since December 2006, in a continuous and routine process, and almost every week with the seniormost Palestinian representative - Abu Mazen, Dr. Mahmoud Abbas. I don't think an Israeli prime minister has ever conducted such intensive negotiations with a Palestinian leader as I have conducted with Abu Mazen over the past two years."
Olmert said that even if a deal were reached now, it could not be implemented before the road map, which requires the Palestinians to fight terror and Israel to evacuate settlements.
"You don't need to deal with every detail to reach a decision," he said. "There are a few central issues that determine the essence of the political and security reality that will be in our region, and an agreement must be reached on those. Never has immediate implementation been discussed, because first the road map must be implemented. But there is no obstacle to reaching a decision in principle on the core issues within a short time."
Olmert also reiterated his position that Israel is not facing a choice between the status quo and the establishment of a Palestinian state, but between a two-state solution and the concept of one state for two peoples, which some Palestinians, Europeans and Americans support.
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