Olmert: Peace deal by ’09 unlikely

Ehud Olmert played down the prospects of clinching an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal by 2009.

“We have a desire to reach an agreement within the year 2008, but I am not sure we will make it,” the Israeli prime minister said Tuesday during an official visit to Japan.

Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas formally relaunched peace talks at last November’s international conference in Annapolis, Md., and the United States has called for the sides to sign an accord by the time President Bush leaves office in January 2009.

But progress has been held up by Palestinian recrimination over Israeli construction in east Jerusalem, and amid Israel’s misgivings at Abbas’ limited power given that Hamas rivals control the Gaza Strip.

Some officials have suggested that Israel and the Palestinian Authority could settle for an agreement in principle by year’s end that would be implemented under the aegis of the next U.S. administration.

Olmert vowed that Israel would make the best of Bush’s last months in the White House, saying there was “no better opportunity” for peace.

“We are determined to make a giant step forward to end this dispute once and for all,” Olmert said. “We want to make every possible effort to seize this opportunity.”

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