Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Tuesday threw more cold water on US President George W. Bush's desire to oversee a final status Israeli-Palestinian peace deal by the end of his second term later this year.
Speaking to reporters after arriving in Tokyo a day earlier, Mr. Olmert said Israel and the Palestinians were taking determined steps toward bridging their difference and reaching an accord by the end of 2008, but that the chances of achieving that goal in so short a timeframe were slim.
Earlier this month, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayad drew a similar conclusion, but unlike Olmert, he used the opportunity to bad-mouth his ostensible peace partners, laying the full blame for slow progress on Israel's refusal to surrender land before Palestinian terrorism had ceased.
On Monday, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas tried to encourage greater US pressure on Israel by issuing a gloomy warning that if a peace deal is not reached by the end of 2008 "there will never be any future chance to achieve this goal."
Back in Israel, members of Mr. Olmert's own ruling Kadima Party urgently met as soon as the prime minister was airborne to discuss ways to foil his plans to divide Jerusalem in compliance with Arab demands.
The gathered lawmakers noted that the Kadima platform includes "guarding united Jerusalem as the capital of Israel," and that the public elected Olmert and his party at least partially based on that promise.
In recent months, Mr. Olmert and his top deputies have laid the groundwork for dividing the holy city by making statements insisting that Israel cannot continue to exercise sovereignty over Arab-dominated neighborhoods in Jerusalem if it ever wants to enjoy true peace.
Sources in both the national government and the Jerusalem municipality have recently revealed to Israeli media that Mr. Olmert has put a freeze on all Jewish construction in the eastern half of the capital in preparation for handin it over to the Palestinian Authority.