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Olmert Vows to Work Toward Peace Deal With Palestinians


Israel's leader has extended an olive branch to the Palestinians in a speech to parliament. As Robert Berger reports from VOA's Jerusalem bureau, the speech brought angry reaction from hawkish opposition leaders.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert says he is committed to reaching a peace agreement with western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

"The current Palestinian leadership is not a terrorist leadership," he said, adding that they too want peace.

Mr. Olmert and Mr. Abbas have met frequently since the Islamic militant group Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip in June. Hamas routed the Fatah forces led by Mr. Abbas, who now heads a moderate government in the West Bank.

Speaking at the opening of the winter session in the Knesset, Mr. Olmert said an upcoming international peace conference in the United States would be followed by the resumption of formal peace talks with the Palestinians.

Mr. Olmert said Israel would have to give up some of its dreams, a reference to holding on to all the biblical Land of Israel.

That brought heckling from the right-wing opposition.

Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu warned that Mr. Olmert's peace plan would bring the nation to disaster.

He said Hamas would quickly take over the West Bank if Israel pulls out, just as it did after Israeli forces withdrew from Gaza two years ago. Mr. Netanyahu said Hamas would then launch a wave of terror on Jerusalem that would force many Jews to leave the city.

Mr. Olmert admitted that despite the goodwill of President Abbas, it remains to be seen whether he can quell terrorism and implement a peace agreement.

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