Olmert rejects Abbas plan to boost negotiations

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Mr Olmert, who will hold talks with Tony Blair in London on Monday, said in the interview that he would prefer negotiations on a solution to the conflict.

However, he warned that for these to happen the Palestinian leadership will still have to fulfil the preconditions in the three-year-old "road map" for peace and those set by the international "Quartet" since Hamas's election.

Mr Olmert also defended his unilateral "realignment plan" for the withdrawal of tens of thousands of settlers from parts of the West Bank while annexing the main settlement blocks in West Bank territory on the west of the 450-mile separation barrier. He said the plan will help progress towards a two-state solution to the conflict. He also revealed that he expects to meet Mr Abbas "towards the end of this month".

But in his first public reaction to Mr Abbas's referendum plan, he told The Independent: "The referendum is an internal game between one faction and the other. It is meaningless in terms of the broad picture of chances towards some kind of dialogue between us and the Palestinians. It's meaningless." Pressed on whether a poll victory on such a referendum, which is designed to bypass Hamas's refusal to recognise Israel, would not strengthen Mr Abbas as a potential "partner" for negotiations, he said: "Everything that can strengthen Abu Mazen [Mr Abbas] is 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 programme which is far behind the basic principles that the international community defined."

Mr Olmert, who will go on to Paris after meetings in London, including one with Gordon Brown, added: "I have to make sure that I am doing the right thing. I can't afford to make any mistake. [Mr Abbas] is actually unable to actually even exercise his authority. What shall I negotiate with him about? And now this is something that serious political leaders with a certain experience can't ignore, certainly not Tony Blair nor Jacques Chirac. They are very experienced people."

Mr Olmert says of the document which Mr Abbas has been trying - so far in vain - to persuade Hamas to accept as an implicit recognition of Israel, did not even mention the state of Israel and talked of the "right of return" for refugees which is the "almost automatic, outright destruction of the state of Israel. Why should I accept this?".

Mr Olmert also said that the boycott of Israel called by British academics was "the highest degree of hypocrisy, narrow-mindedness and maybe even worse."