"I can tell you that if I'd had an opportunity to meet with King Abdullah of the Saudis - which I have not - he would be very surprised to hear what I have to say," Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said last week in an interview with Time magazine. "I look very favorably at the active role Saudis are now playing in the Middle East for many years," Olmert said, calling the Saudi peace initiative "a very interesting approach."
When pressed by interviewer Joe Klein to elaborate on what would surprise Abdullah, Olmert responded coyly, "If he reads about it in Time, he wouldn't be surprised."
The comment is the closest Olmert has ever come to calling for a dialogue with Saudi Arabia. Olmert seeks to participate in a regional summit - to include the Saudis - which would sponsor negotiations between Israel and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. The prime minister wants a dramatic event that would simultaneously signal a diplomatic breakthrough and improve his domestic standing.
The latest Peace Index survey, conducted by the Tami Steinmetz Center for Peace Research and the Evens Program in Mediation and Conflict Resolution at Tel Aviv University, points to support within Israel for talks toward a regional peace agreement based on the Saudi initiative but questions the ability of Olmert's government to conduct such negotiations. The survey will be published this week in Haaretz.
Among those respondents who had heard about the Saudi proposal (62 percent of the Israeli public), 56 percent are in favor of responding to the initiative, while 38 percent are opposed. Among those who had not heard of the plan, 42 percent supported an Israeli response and 48 percent objected. However, 72 percent of respondents believe that the Olmert government does not have the public support required to negotiate over a final status agreement.
In the Time interview, Olmert called PA Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh a "terrorist" and said he recently "transferred over a million dollars for a group of terrorists to carry out terrorist actions against Israeli citizens."
The four-member security committee consisting of Israel, the PA, Egypt and the U.S. met in Cairo Thursday for the first time in a long time. Topping the agenda was the operation of the Rafah border crossing.
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