Prime Minister Ehud Olmert spoke with reporters on Saturday night while en route to a meeting with US President George W. Bush, a meeting likely to focus on the deteriorating situation in the Palestinian Authority and Hamas' takeover of the Gaza Strip.
Olmert said that the new reality in the PA might be present a new opportunity for political progress as Israel would consider a Palestinian government without Hamas as a legitimate partner for future talks.
"A situation that hasn't existed for a long time has been created over the course of the past few days in the changing landscape of the Palestinian Authority. We intend to work very hard to use this opportunity. We can look at it as a setback but the possibility exists that this is a new opportunity. You need to know how to identify that opportunity," he said.
Olmert said that the crisis exposed exactly what was problematic with the former government: "What became apparent is that you can not maintain a government when 50 percent of its members are terrorists. It doesn't work. If anyone deluded themselves in the past, it has become clear now that it does not work. First and foremost this will make it easier for the Palestinians. A government that is not Hamas is a partner."
Olmert and Bush are also expected to discuss the situation with Damascus, the Saudi peace initiative and the smuggling of arms from Iran via Syria to Hizbullah in Lebanon. Olmert will also tell the president that Israel has no intention of intervening in Gaza. "The status of the PA, which was clear to us for a very long time, is now being seen by the international community," said Olmert.
Olmert will also likely consult with Bush on future talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and his new prime minister, Salam Fayyad, as well as stress that Israel will respond with force should Hamas attack Israeli citizens.
Olmert's trip will begin in New York City, where he is first scheduled to meet with UN Secretary General Ban ki-Moon. From there he will travel to Washington DC for meetings with President Bush, Vice
President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and various key Senators. On Wednesday he will return to Israel. Foreign Affairs Minister Tzipi Livni will serve as acting prime minister in his absence.