Bush Calls Israel Border Plan 'Bold'

Ehud Olmert, Israel's new prime minister, addresses the U.S. Congress, one day after meeting with President Bush. Olmert plans to lay out his vision for a two-state solution between the Israelis and Palestinians. Mr. Bush called the plan "bold."

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Israel's new prime minister is signaling some of his next moves today. Ehud Olmert speaks to Congress here in Washington, and he's likely to describe his plan to draw borders with the Palestinians. Under that plan, Israelis would withdraw from parts of the West Bank but also keep large settlements.

His plan won a cautious endorsement from President Bush yesterday, as NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN reporting:

President Bush described Olmert's ideas as bold and said they could be an important step towards peace. Mr. Bush said negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians would be a preferable way to get to a two-state solution. The problem is, he says, a designated terrorist organization, Hamas, is running the Palestinian government and rejects Israel's right to exist.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: In order to solve this problem, there needs to be, you know, willingness to take the lead and creativity, and the desire to follow through on the vision.

KELEMEN: Prime Minister Olmert assured the president that he would first, as he put it, extend his hand to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas before ruling out the possibility of a negotiated settlement. Olmert describes Abbas, who's with the Fatah Movement, as sincere, though Israelis see the Palestinian president as weak. And, Prime Minister Olmert made clear, he's not ready to wait long for Hamas to change and to renounce terrorism.

Prime Minister EHUD OLMERT (Israel's Acting Prime Minister): We are anxious to have negotiations. We will look and find every possible avenue to help establish a process of negotiations on the basis of these conditions. However, as I say it, we will not wait indefinitely.

KELEMEN: His unilateral plan is to remove isolated Israeli settlements in the West Bank and bolster major enclaves that Israel says it plan to keep.

Prime Minister OLMERT: To ultimately create a situation where there are secured borders for the state of Israel, with the population centers in the territories as part of the state of Israel, and with a continuous territory, that will allow the Palestinians to establish their own Palestinian state. And hopefully, this is something that will happen within the next three to four years.

KELEMEN: Prime Minister Olmert is likely to get a warm reception on Capital Hill where the House voted, yesterday, to further restrict aid and contacts with the Palestinian Authority - even with Palestinian moderates.

Many Palestinians already blame the U.S. and Israel for a financial crisis in the territories, though President Bush has tried to shift the blame to the Hamas government.

President BUSH: Our beef is not with the Palestinian people. Our beef is with the government that's - a group in the government - that says they don't recognize Israel.

KELEMEN: He said the U.S. is working with European officials to funnel more money to Palestinians, but both U.S. and Israeli officials traveling with Olmert have tried to play down the fears of a financial collapse.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

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