Olmert: Keeping the Status Quo Endangers Israel

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said yesterday that the status quo with the Palestinians cannot go on, as he prepared for his departure Sunday to the Annapolis summit.

As Olmert is readying for his trip, Arab League foreign ministers are meeting in Cairo today to determine which countries will attend the U.S.-sponsored summit, and at what level.

Meanwhile, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators have still not managed to draft a common declaration that is meant to be one of the highlights at Annapolis, signaling the start of intensive negotiations between the two sides for a peace agreement.

"I have concluded that we cannot maintain the status quo between us and the Palestinians," Olmert said yesterday. "We have spent too much time dealing with the status quo but it will lead to results that are much worse than those of a failed conference. It will result in Hamas taking over Judea and Samaria, to a weakening or even the disappearance of the moderate Palestinians. Unless a political horizon can be found, the results will be deadly."

Olmert added, "The gap is such that intensive negotiations will be able to narrow them to the point of formulating an agreement."

The negotiations, Olmert said, are expected "to be difficult, but all the difficulties of conducting negotiations are familiar to me. I am not approaching this with naivete, but as a very sober person, who knows all [the Palestinians'] weaknesses."

On his relations with Defense Minister Ehud Barak, and the doubts the latter expressed regarding the potential of the negotiations with the Palestinians, Olmert said, "I do not need to judge Barak about how he reaches his conclusions. The question is whether at the critical juncture, he will be with me or against me, and I maintain that he will be with me."

At Sharm el-Sheikh yesterday, Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak hosted Jordan's King Abdullah and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas.

According to an Egyptian government spokesman, the American invitation to the Annapolis summit is based on the principle "of land for peace and the Arab League peace initiative."

Olmert said that President George Bush will meet separately in Washington on Monday with him and with Abbas before meeting with both together. That evening, the Israeli and Palestinian negotiating teams will meet for dinner at the State Department, where Bush is expected to give an address.

The next day, the negotiators will move to Annapolis for the conference, which will begin with statements by Bush, Abbas and Olmert. The rest of the day will involve working groups.