PM: Peace Deal Now Possible; Truce May Be Extended to W. Bank, PA Groups Say

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is expected to give a speech focusing on diplomatic issues today at the annual memorial service for prime minister David Ben-Gurion at Sde Boker in the Negev. Olmert's bureau would not reveal any details of the contents of the address, but it may be assumed that following the cease-fire deal reached with the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, Olmert will present his plans and expectations for a diplomatic initiative with the Palestinians.

Government sources in Jerusalem said yesterday they believed Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice would visit Israel and the Palestinian Authority this week as an expression of U.S. support for the Gaza cease-fire. Rice is to arrive Wednesday with President George W. Bush in Jordan to take part in a conference on democracy and development called by King Abdullah, and to meet with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. The original plan called for a trip to the region to focus on the Iraqi issue, but now it appears that Rice will be devoting time to Israel and the Palestinians as well.

Olmert said yesterday during a trip to the Negev, "The state of Israel is so strong that it can allow itself to hold back, to give a real chance to the cease-fire. After all, a cease-fire is not the supreme goal. It is only a stage in the process, which we hope will create the dynamic that will lead to negotiations and dialogue, and perhaps will finally bring about an agreement between us and the Palestinians."

An intermediary between Hamas and Fatah, Ziad Abu-Amar, told Haaretz the Palestinian factions would soon begin to discuss expanding the short-term cease-fire, or tahadiyeh, to the West Bank. Abu Amar also said Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas had asked the factions to "calm down" their activities in the West Bank, so as to allow a cease-fire agreement to be extended to that area as well. A spokesman for the Palestinian government, Razi Hamed, confirmed to Haaretz that the organizations do intend to examine this option.

Meanwhile, yesterday the Israeli right took Olmert to task harshly over the cease-fire with the Palestinian Authority, and warned that the Palestinian terror organizations would take advantage of it to strengthen themselves ahead of renewing their attacks on Israel.