In a dramatic speech Monday, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert
made an appeal to the Palestinians, urging them to choose a 'new path' --- a path of negotiations with Israel.
The government met on Sunday at Kibbutz Sde Boker to commemorate the passing away of Israel's founder and first prime minister David Ben-Gurion 33 years ago.
'Recognize our right to live in peace.' Olmert in Sde Boker
Olmert, who until recently called for a unilateral Israeli withdrawal from West Bank territories, or 'realignment' as
he referred to it, said, "I call on you from here today to choose a new path, a path that gives a chance to a different future for you and for us. Yesterday we went down that path and I hope it will push us forward towards the goal that want to reach – peace, calm and trust in one another," .
Olmert said Israel will be ready to evacuate occupied lands and settlements in return for "real peace." "You have to stop violence and terror, to recognize our right to live in peace and security by your side and to give up the right of return. That's a right, natural and possible target," he said.
"If you show the needed determination and discipline you will find us ready. Please don't face us with another test that would cause destruction and thousands of victims and will lead to crisis and despair," he said, addressing the Palestinians.
The prime minister evoked Ben-Gurion who said Israel would have to give up most of the territories occupied during the Six-Day War in return for peace.
"Ben-Gurion extended a hand in peace to Arab states the year Israel was born. The hand then returned empty, but like then the hand remains extended. I extend my hand in peace to our Palestinian neighbors in the hope that it won't return empty," Olmert said.
Olmert said the Palestinians face historic crossroads as they can choose between either going down a new round of violence and terror or engaging in serious peace talks with Israel.
"Terror, violence, murder and incessant attacks against Israel's citizens are likely to bring us closer to a new and painful wave of terrible violence. As we stand on the verge of a making decisions that are likely to lead us to a confrontation that will only worsen, I call on you from here today to go down a new path," he said.
Olmert said that should a Palestinian unity government comply with the demands of the international community to recognize Israel, respect all agreements signed between the Jewish State and the Palestine Liberation Organization, and release Gilad Shalit, he would be ready to engage in peace talks with Abbas.
Olmert added that under the US peace plan known as the road map, the Palestinians can "establish an independent Palestinian state, with territorial contiguity in the West Bank, a state that will enjoy full sovereignty and will have defined borders."
Olmert reiterated his readiness to release Palestinian prisoners in return for Gilad Shalit, the Israeli corporal who was kidnapped by gunmen in a cross-border raid near the Gaza Strip on June 25.
In return for a true and lasting ceasefire Israel would be ready to take a series of measures in the West Bank to alleviate the distress of the Palestinian population there and to improve their living standards.
Reducing the number of roadblocks, transferring tax rebates to the Palestinian Authority, easing travel restrictions, allowing trade activities, opening the border crossing along the border with the Gaza Strip, and cooperating on infrastructure and economic projects are among the measures Israel would be willing to implement to ease the hardship of the Palestinians, Olmert said.