Israeli PM Ready to Make ‘Painful’ Concessions

By Jim Teeple

JERUSALEM (VOA) — Ehud Olmert says Israel is willing to make extensive, painful and tough concessions if doing so encourages a dialogue to develop with Israel’s enemies.

Speaking in Tel Aviv, Israel’s Prime Minister also said Israel would be willing to accept many aspects of a Saudi Arabian-backed regional peace plan first unveiled in 2002. But he said Israel rejected some aspects of the plan, such as an addendum to the plan that calls for the right of Palestinian refugees and their descendants to return to their homes in Israel.

Mr. Olmert also said Israel is willing to make concessions to gain the release of two Israeli prisoners held by Hezbollah militants in Lebanon, and one held by Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip.

Israel’s prime minister says experience has taught that compromise and lengthy negotiations are a fact of life when it comes gaining the release of Israeli prisoners.

The Saudi-backed regional peace plan is expected to be a key topic of discussion at next week’s Arab summit in Riyadh, the Saudi capital. The plan calls for Arab states to recognize Israel in exchange for Israel withdrawing to its 1967 borders. Saeb Erekat, the lead Palestinian negotiator with Israel, told the Associated Press that Palestinians consider the Saudi plan a basis for negotiations.

Following the recent formation of a Palestinian unity government, Israel ruled out direct talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas except on humanitarian issues. Israeli officials say they will not recognize the new government and will not negotiate with it because it contains members of Hamas who refuse to recognize Israel.