Israel's prime minister, Ehud Olmert, said Wednesday he will maintain contacts with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, but that achieving peace with the Palestinians will be difficult because a majority of Palestinians support Hamas. VOA's Jim Teeple reports from Jerusalem the Israeli leader also had tough words for Iran and Syria.
In his annual address to foreign journalists Ehud Olmert touched on a wide range of subjects, including Iran, Hezbollah and Syria.
Speaking two days after he concluded a U.S.-brokered summit meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Mr. Olmert says he is confident bilateral negotiations between Israel and Mr. Abbas will continue. However, Israel's prime minister says it is unclear what can be accomplished in talking to Mr. Abbas since Hamas is the majority party in the Palestinian territories.
"Now, what do you ask me to do if you speak with the body which does not represent the majority, only because the majority is against talking with me," he said. "But a body that does not represent the majority today amongst the Palestinians will not be able to actually carry out any commitment that will make any such talks valuable and meaningful. Let us not bypass the issue. The fact is that the majority of Palestinians voted for people who do not want to make peace with Israel."
Hamas has controlled the Palestinian Authority since defeating Mr. Abbas' Fatah Party in legislative elections last year. A power-sharing agreement between the two factions designed to lead to a coalition government has been rejected by Israel because it does not recognize the Jewish state, renounce violence or fully accept past peace agreements between Israel and the Palestinians. Mr. Olmert says Israel is willing to talk to its enemies, but they also have to be willing to talk to Israel.
On Iran, Mr. Olmert says the international community must increase pressure on Tehran to suspend its uranium enrichment activities. Iranian officials say their nuclear energy program is for peaceful purposes only, but Israel says Iran is the greatest threat to its security.
Mr. Olmert says for now Israel supports peaceful efforts to get Iran to comply with U.N. Security Council demands to curb its enrichment program.
"I believe that the coordinated effort - the diplomatic and economic and financial measures - can cause the result we are looking for. And therefore I am not defining any other thresholds or timetables," he said.
Mr. Olmert also said Syria's support for Hezbollah militants who attacked Israel last year rules out for now any chance of peace talks.
He also rejected assessments made recently by a senior Israeli intelligence official who said Hezbollah has regained its military strength and is now once again a threat to Israel.
Mr. Olmert saw his poll numbers decline precipitously last year after the war in Lebanon ended without a clear military victory over Hezbollah. However, in his remarks on Wednesday he said an enhanced U.N. military force working with Lebanon's army has largely contained Hezbollah - making it virtually impossible for Hezbollah to function in its heartland.