Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert says he is open to suggestions of attending regional talks with the Middle East Quartet, the Palestinians and other Arab states including Saudi Arabia. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon raised the idea while on a visit to the Middle East in a bid to revive the stalled 2002 peace initiative.
Meanwhile, on her seventh visit to the region in eight months, US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice is midway through four days of shuttle diplomacy. Olmert’s refusal to deal with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas since the formation of a unity government with Hamas means Rice is operating as a go-between.
The 2002 plan she is touting offers Israel normal ties with Arab countries in return for withdrawal of Israeli settlements from the West Bank. But the future of those settlements remains a highly sensitive issue.
The former residents of Homesh, a town evacuated as part of Israel’s disengagement from the West Bank in 2005, returned yesterday to erect a tent settlement in their latest protest against the evacuation.