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Palestinian referendum meaningless: Olmert

The Israeli Prime Minister dismissed a referendum on a Palestinian statehood proposal as 'meaningless'.

india Updated: Jun 10, 2006 15:08 IST

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert dismissed a referendum on a Palestinian statehood proposal as "meaningless" in an interview with British newspapers published on Saturday.

"The referendum is an internal game between one (Palestinian) faction and the other. It is meaningless in terms of the broad picture of chances toward some kind of dialogue between us and the Palestinians," the Financial Times and The Independent both quoted Olmert as saying.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is expected to issue a decree on Saturday that would allow a referendum by July 31 on a statehood proposal that implicitly recognises Israel.

Islamic militant group Hamas accuses Abbas of using the referendum to try to engineer the downfall of the Hamas-led government, which took office after trouncing Abbas's Fatah movement in January elections but has struggled with a Western aid embargo and growing disorder.

The interview was published before Olmert holds talks with British Prime Minister Tony Blair in London on Monday.

It appeared to pre-date Friday's dramatic events when Hamas called off a 16-month-old truce with Israel after attacks blamed on Israeli forces killed 10 Palestinians, including three children playing on a beach.

The Financial Times quoted Olmert as saying that the Palestinian leadership was not presently capable of negotiating on his plan to withdraw from part of the West Bank.

It said Olmert, who will also visit France and later Germany, planned to seek European support for his proposals to define Israel's borders unilaterally in the likely event that talks with Abbas failed.

President Bush gave a boost last month to Olmert's plan to unilaterally set Israel's border with a future Palestinian state, but emphasized that Israel should first pursue peace talks

The Financial Times quoted Olmert as saying he would meet Abbas toward the end of this month but said he held out little prospect of a breakthrough.

In Olmert's view, progress would depend on Abbas abiding strictly by the "road map" drawn up by the United States, the European Union, the United Nations and Russia that called for the disarming of militant groups, the Financial Times said.

Referring to the referendum, Olmert said anything that strengthened Abbas was favourable.

"However, at the end of the day he will have to make these basic principles that were outlined.

So he will not be able to get away by saying (he) forced a referendum that accepted a program which is far behind the basic principles that the international community defined," the two British newspapers quoted Olmert as saying.

First Published: Jun 10, 2006 10:24 IST