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Israeli coalition, opposition parties challenge Olmert's talks with Palestinians
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08:53, November 07, 2007

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Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's diplomatic efforts in recent peace talks with Palestinian National Authority (PNA) come up against furious criticism from both the opposition and his coalition parties.

Opposition Likud party leader Benjamin Netanyahu said early Tuesday that Israel has no partner for a real peace with the Palestinians, according to the website of local daily Ha'aretz.

Netanyahu's comments came after a new round of diplomatic endeavors made by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice during her third visit in six weeks in a bid to boost peace talks prior to an upcoming U.S.-host peace parley in Annapolis, Maryland.

Premier Olmert said Sunday evening that there was an opportunity for talks as the Palestinian leadership is committed to agreements signed in the past years.

Netanyahu, however, dismissed the "opportunity" as "a virtual reality."

"We have a partner for words, but not for deeds, certainly not for fighting terrorism, and, to my regret, no partner for a real peace," he told Israel Radio.

According to Netanyahu, there was no basis for Olmert's remarks that Israel has a peacemaking partner in the PNA and that PNA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas is committed to curbing terrorists in his mind.

On Monday, Abbas said at a joint press conference with Rice in Ramallah that there was a real possibility for sealing a peace deal with Israel before U.S. President George W. Bush steps down in January 2009.

Abbas also called on Israel to start meeting some of its short-term peace obligations, such as a freeze on settlement construction.

Moreover, Netanyahu warned against ceding additional territory to Palestinian control, saying the Palestinians are incapable of containing expansion of Hamas.

"Hamas, under the sponsorship of Iran, will enter any area that we evacuate," Netanyahu said.

Netanyahu also urged Shas and Yisrael Beiteinu, two major parties in the coalition government, to quit the coalition immediately, saying that Olmert and his senior coalition partner, Labor Party Chairman Ehud Barak, have already proven themselves incapable of reading reality.

Olmert pledged at the Saban Forum on Sunday that Israel will not avoid at Annapolis summit all the core issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, namely the status of Jerusalem, borders between Israel and the future Palestine statehood and the Palestinian refugees.

But he reiterated that serious negotiations on a Palestinian statehood would take place only after Annapolis.

On Monday, Yisrael Beiteinu party chairman, Strategic Affairs Minister Avigdor Lieberman, said that the party will stick to its red lines, which bar any discussion of the "core issues" at the conference.

However, the party has not yet threatened to quit the coalition, and senior leaders of Olmert's Kadima party attributed it to the prime minister who has reassured Lieberman on this point.

Yisrael Hasson, member of Knesset (Israeli parliament) of the rightist Yisrael Beiteinu faction, also lashed out at Olmert's talks with the Palestinians, terming the upcoming Annapolis conference "a fantasy, not a vision."

Speaking off the record, unidentified lawmakers of the Kadima party have also complained that Olmert was dragging the party too far to the left.

Shas, for its part, is taking comfort from Olmert's statement that Annapolis is merely the beginning of the process, not its end.

Party Chairman and Industry Minister Eli Yishai said that Shas does not view the PNA as a peace partner until its ability to control the territory and fulfill its obligations has been proven.

Olmert's right-wing coalition partners were opposed to dividing Jerusalem and taking other sweeping steps as part of any deal with Palestinian leader Abbas.

In July, U.S. President George W. Bush proposed to hold an international conference this fall to include Israel, the PNA and some of their Arab neighbors to help restart Mideast peace talks and review progress in building democratic institutions.

<i>Source: Xinhua</i>

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