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Palestinian state vital to Israel's existence - PM Olmert

RIA Novosti

29/11/2007 17:21 TEL AVIV, November 29 (RIA Novosti) - If negotiations on an independent Palestinian state fail it will threaten Israel's very existence, the Israeli prime minister said.

"If the day comes when the two-state solution collapses, and we face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights (also for the Palestinians in the territories), then, as soon as that happens, the State of Israel is finished," Ehud Olmert said in an interview with Haaretz online publication.

He said the Jewish organizations, which were Israel's power base in America, would be the first to come out against it, "because they will say they cannot support a state that does not support democracy and equal voting rights for all its residents."

The Israeli head of state said the recent peace conference in Annapolis "met more than we could have defined as the Israeli expectations, but that will not absolve us of the difficulties there will be in the negotiations, which will be difficult, complex, and will require a very great deal of patience and sophistication."

Olmert said Israel now had a partner, in Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

"He is a weak partner, who is not capable, and, as Tony Blair says, has yet to formulate the tools and may not manage to do so. But it is my job to do everything so that he receives the tools, and to reach an understanding on the guidelines for an agreement," he said.

Tuesday's one-day talks in Annapolis produced a joint statement signed by Olmert and Abbas, including an agreement to broker a peace deal by the end of next year.

In their joint statement, Olmert and Abbas agreed to "immediately launch good-faith bilateral negotiations in order to conclude a peace treaty resolving all outstanding issues, including all core issues without exception, as specified in previous agreements."

Islamist group Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip and was excluded from the talks, dismissed the conference as a "waste of time," and said it would not recognize any agreements reached there.

At the Annapolis talks, Abbas reiterated Palestinian demands that Israel remove its settlements in the West Bank and release thousands of Palestinian prisoners.

Arab states have pledged to improve relations with Israel when an independent Palestinian state is formed, with its capital in East Jerusalem, and when Palestinian refugees are brought home. They are also seeking an Israeli withdrawal from Palestinian lands occupied in the 1967 Israel-Arab War, as well as from Syria's Golan Heights.

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