Prior to this week, the United States had consistently opposed any Israeli unilateral moves on final status negotiations with the Palestinians, as such moves would exclude the Palestinians from negotiating their future.
US President George Bush has signaled a policy shift on Israeli Premier Ehud Olmert’s plan to unilaterally set final borders without consultations with the Palestinians.
"These ideas could lead to a two-state solution if a pathway to progress on the road map is not opened in the period ahead," Bush told a joint press conference with his Israeli guest Tuesday, May 23, Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported.
He described as "bold" Olmert’s plan to annex large Jewish settlement blocks in the occupied West Bank, dividing Palestinian areas and making it almost impossible to create a contiguous and viable Palestinian state.
Olmert, on his first White House visit as prime minister, has pledged to fix Israel’s final borders by the end of his mandate in 2010 even without consultations with the Palestinians.
The United States had consistently opposed any Israeli unilateral moves on final status negotiations with the Palestinians.
Tuliameni Kalomoh, the UN assistant secretary general for political affairs, told the UN Security Council on Thursday, March 30, that Israel’s unilateral plan would undermine efforts to establish peace in the Middle East.
Arab governments believe more unilateral steps by Israel to retain control over occupied Palestinian territories would kill stone dead any peace chances.
Olmert argues that talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will be ultimately futile unless he can make Hamas change its platform.
"We cannot wait indefinitely for the Palestinians to change," Olmert told the press conference with Bush.
"If we come to the conclusion that no progress is possible, we will be compelled to try a different route."
Israel considers the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority a "terrorist entity" and refuses any talks with the Palestinian government.
The head of Hamas parliamentary majority has recently said the group would not object to the resumption of negotiations between Abbas and Israel.
A senior Israeli cabinet member said Israel will move ahead with the unilateral plan within six months.
"If these things don’t happen, we won’t wait for years, but rather we will wait until the end of this year," Haim Ramon told Israel Radio.
Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniya has asserted that his government could establish peace in stages with Israel if the latter withdrew to the 1967 borders and recognized the inalienable rights of the Palestinians.
"We do not have any feelings of animosity toward Jews. We do not wish to throw them into the sea," he told the Washington Post in February.
"All we seek is to be given our land back, not to harm anybody."
The Palestinian government has accused Olmert of having no interest in negotiating a peaceful settlement with the Palestinians.
Ghazi Hamad, the government’s chief spokesman, said Olmert was "lying" and trying to pull the wool over the eyes of the international community by claiming to want to negotiate a two-state solution.
"The political program of Israel is very clear — they want to create a pure Jewish state. He is not interested in establishing a Palestinian state," he told AFP.
The spokesman compared Olmert’s stance on the Palestinian government to now coma-stricken predecessor Ariel Sharon’s on late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
"He says there is no partner but before they said Arafat was not a partner and now they say Hamas is not a partner," said Hamad.
"He does not trust Abu Mazen (Abbas), he just wants to continue his idea of a unilateral solution… He doesn’t want to sit at the negotiating table."
The Palestinian presidency also rebuked Olmert’s remarks.
"The declarations of Ehud Olmert are scarcely encouraging because he is trying to change the roadmap," Abbas spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeina told AFP.
"His goal isn’t clear, while we maintain that the Palestinian Authority and the PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organization) are ready to begin negotiations immediately on the basis of the road map," he added.