Prime Minister Ehud Olmert pledged Wednesday to continue with peace talks with the Palestinian Authority until an agreement is achieved, while ruling out talks with Hamas, threatening instead to confront the Islamists with ''very painful'' methods.
Addressing foreign correspondents in Jerusalem, Olmert said that while some Palestinians are carrying out attacks on Israel, his government is pursuing peace talks with moderates. He shot down allegations that his government is not doing enough to bolster Palestinian moderates.
He told the reporters, ''We are absolutely determined to carry out these talks until we finalize a solution.'' Olmert said he believed an ''outline of a two-state solution'' can be achieved this year.
In an especially emotional statement, he insisted that the talks are essential. ''If I want an excuse not to negotiate, believe me, I have many. If the other side wants an excuse to stop the process, they can find many,'' he said. Instead, he said, the two sides must concentrated on peace talks to settle their differences.
'Qassams hinder peace efforts'
Olmert said Israel would comply with all its commitments under the internationally backed ''road map'' peace plan ''if the Palestinians do the same.'' The plan mandates a halt to all Israeli settlement construction, but Olmert said Israel would continue building in settlement blocs it intends to keep in a peace deal, as well as in the disputed section of Jerusalem claimed by both sides.
He pledged not to build new settlements or expropriate additional land for existing ones.
When asked why Israel has been slow to remove restrictions on movement for Palestinians in the West Bank, Olmert said a single major terrorist attack in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv could ''ruin the entire process.''
''We are trying to find the appropriate balance between our security needs and the access and movement needs of the population,'' Olmert said.
At the same time, Olmert complained about the constant rocket fire from Gaza, which is controlled by Hamas. Speaking at nightfall, Olmert said that up to that point, nine rockets had been fired from Gaza during the day. ''This is not a prescription for peaceful relations,'' he said, ruling out talks with Hamas.
Olmert ruled out negotiations with the Islamist group. ''Hamas is an obstacle. It is not an insurmountable obstacle. It can be overcome,'' he said. ''We will deal with Hamas in other ways.''
Talks with Damascus?
Olmert also called for concerted world action to prevent Iran from acquiring weapons of mass destruction. He said Israel has not changed its mind, based on its information, that Iran is attempting to ''achieve a non-conventional capacity,'' a reference to nuclear weapons, despite Iran's denial.
He said that world leaders have said ''every option that can be of consequence on this issue should be considered, and I agree with this,'' a possible reference to military action.
At the same time, Olmert hinted that Israel could be holding _ or planning to hold _ secret talks with Syria.
He said Israel favors face-to-face talks with Syria that could result in a peace treaty, presumably not unlike the ones the Jewish state already has with Egypt and Jordan.
''That doesn't mean that when we sit together you have to see us,'' he said, an apparent reference to the
possibility of secret contacts.
Olmert indicated that he does not favor a Russian proposal to hold a follow-up summit to Annapolis in Moscow, saying more international conferences are not needed.
''This habit of going from one conference to the other is not something I'm particularly in favor of,'' he said.