Palestinian President Mahmoud
Abbas is the only person Israel can hold peace negotiations with at this time,
Israel's Shimon Peres said Monday.
The statements by Peres, a Cabinet minister, contradicted comments made
Sunday by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who called Abbas "powerless" and
"helpless" and too weak to implement any peace deal that the sides would reach.
Abbas is "the only address" for negotiations, Peres told Israel's Army Radio.
"There is no one else. It is either Hamas or him. Since Hamas is out of the
question, Abu Mazen is the only one that can be considered," Peres said. Abbas
is also known as Abu Mazen.
Israel has cut off all ties with the Palestinian government since Hamas took
over two months ago, leading an international campaign to punish the Islamic
group with debilitating economic sanctions.
Israel, the United States and other Western countries have demanded that
Hamas _ a group sworn to Israel's destruction _ renounce violence, accept past
peace agreements and recognize Israel's right to exist. Hamas has so far
rejected the demands.
In the meantime, however, Olmert has said he will not try to bypass Hamas by
holding peace talks with Abbas, who was elected president in a separate election
and still wields significant authority. Olmert has said that if he is unable to
have meaningful peace talks he will move to unilaterally draw Israel's borders
Olmert's comments on CNN were broadcast hours after Peres and Israeli Foreign
Minister Tzipi Livni met with Abbas on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum
in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheik, the highest level contacts
between the sides since Hamas' election victory in January.
An Olmert-Abbas summit is to be held in the coming weeks, after the Israeli
leader returns from a trip this week to Washington, where he will meet U.S.
President George W. Bush.
But in the interview with CNN's Late Edition, Olmert cast doubt that his
meeting with Abbas would bear fruit.
"He is powerless. He is helpless," Olmert said. "He's unable to even stop the
minimal terror activities amongst the Palestinians. How can he seriously
negotiate with Israel and take _ assume responsibility for the most major,
fundamental issues that are in controversy between us and