Prime Minister Ehud Olmert hailed a new peace initiative from Arab states as representing a "revolutionary change" but repeated Israel's opposition to any return of Palestinian refugees in a series of newspaper interviews published Friday.
Olmert told the Haaretz daily that the peace plan announced at the Arab League summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, this week showed that many Arab states realized they "may have been wrong to think that Israel is the world's greatest problem." This, Olmert said, marked a "revolutionary change in outlook."
The Arab plan, spearheaded by Saudi Arabia, calls for full recognition of Israel by the Arab world in return for an Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 borders and a "just solution" for Palestinian refugees who lost their homes inside Israel in 1948 and 1949.
Israel rejects a full withdrawal, hoping to hang on to several settlement blocs in the West Bank. It has also ruled out the possibility of a refugee return, because an influx of refugees and their millions of descendants would mean the end of Israel as a Jewish state.
In another interview published Friday in the English-language daily The Jerusalem Post, Olmert reiterated this opposition, calling a refugee return "out of the question."
"I'll never accept a solution that is based on their return to Israel, any number," Olmert said.
Olmert told the daily Yediot Ahronot that there is "a real chance that within five years Israel will be able to reach an inclusive peace deal with its enemies."
"Things are happening that haven't happened in the past, and they're ripening. We have to know how to take advantage of this opportunity," Olmert told the paper.