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French Version

Olmert says he dreams of regional peace - after another half-decade

The Israeli premier said he was ready to hold talks with Saudi Arabia and other Arab states about their renewed peace plan and called Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdel-Aziz "a remarkable leader," but rejected any return of Palestinian refugees. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert later launched a scathing attack against Palestinian Premier Ismail Haniyya, calling him a "terrorist" and accusing him of transferring more than $1 million to fighters to carry out attacks against Israel.

In interviews with Israeli newspapers published on Friday, Olmert said a 2002 peace plan endorsed by Arab leaders at a summit in Riyadh could help create positive momentum in future negotiations.

Olmert said that the very idea that Arab leaders could discuss the possibility of normalizing relations with Israel represented "a revolutionary change in outlook."

"A bloc of states is emerging that understands that they may have been wrong to think that Israel is the world's greatest problem," he told Haaretz.

"We will act cautiously and wisely out of a willingness to create a dynamic that will improve and strengthen the process," Olmert told the paper.

"I have a dream. That within five years there will be a global peace accord in the Middle East," Olmert told Maariv.

But he made clear aspects of the Arab plan were "problematic" and that Israel was not prepared to embrace it, "jump in and say 'This is it.'"

The Arab peace initiative offers Israel normal ties with all Arab countries in return for withdrawal from land seized in the 1967 war, the creation of a Palestinian state and a "just solution" for Palestinians refugees.

"There are interesting ideas there [in the Arab plan], and we are ready to hold discussions and hear from the Saudis about their approach and to tell them about ours," Olmert told the Haaretz newspaper.

"Saudi Arabia is the country that in the end will determine the ability of the Arabs to reach a compromise with Israel," the Israeli premier said.

Olmert also referred to Saudi King Abdullah as a "remarkable" leader whom he would like to meet

The right of return, Olmert told the Jerusalem Post, is "something we certainly can't agree to and we won't agree to."

It is out of the question, Olmert told the newspaper. "I'll never accept a solution that is based on their return to Israel, any number."

Israel has been urging other countries to continue to shun Haniyya and a newly created Palestinian unity government, citing Hamas' refusal to recognize the Jewish state and renounce armed struggle.

In a sharp escalation of Israel's campaign against the unity government, Olmert told Time magazine, "Just lately Haniyya transferred over $1 million for a group of terrorists to carry out terrorist actions against Israeli citizens."

"He's a terrorist. You have a terrorist who is prime minister of the Palestinian Authority now," Olmert alleged.

Olmert said the funds came from outside the Palestinian territories and were transferred to one of Hamas' armed wings for the "explicit purpose of carrying out terrorist actions."

Olmert offered no other details or evidence about the alleged transfer.

An Israeli security source said Israel believes that Haniyya was directly involved in the decision to make the transfer, which took place in recent weeks. The money was not taken from the Palestinian government, the source said.

According to Olmert, President Mahmoud Abbas said "time and again that 'I will not agree to have a government with Haniyya as prime minister.'" It was not immediately clear where or when Abbas had made such statements.

In a March 2006 interview with the Israeli news Web site YNET, Olmert called Haniyya an "enemy" but said there was no evidence he was involved in Hamas' "terror" operations.

Haniyya aide Ghazi Hamad brushed aside Olmert's comments in Time. "It seems that the Arab and international support for the unity government has provoked and angered Olmert, and has pushed him to take a confused and irresponsible position," he said.

The Daily Star

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