Jerusalem Prime Minister Ehud Olmert dismissed Israel’s top negotiator in Gaza truce talks for publicly criticizing his demand that Palestinian militants hand over a captured Israeli soldier before any deal is clinched, officials said Monday.
The move threatens to roil the talks just weeks before Olmert is succeeded by the hawkish Benjamin Netanyahu, who wants Gaza’s Hamas rulers toppled and likely would take a tougher line in the Egyptian-brokered truce negotiations.
A truce deal has implications beyond cementing the informal Jan. 18 cease-fire that ended Israel’s war on Hamas. Without it, there is little chance of advancing already troubled talks to reconcile feuding Palestinian factions.
Olmert abruptly announced last week that Israel would not reopen Gaza’s long-blockaded borders — the main Israeli concession sought by Hamas — unless Hamas-affiliated militants first freed Sgt. Gilad Schalit, who was seized in a June 2006 cross-border raid.