Olmert: Israel Must Hand Back Land for Peace with Palestinians and Syria

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The Guardian/UK

Olmert: Israel Must Hand Back Land for Peace with Palestinians and Syria

Outgoing PM says in newspaper interview there will be no deals without withdrawing from 'almost all' land captured in 1967 war

by
Rory McCarthy

JERUSALEM - The outgoing prime minister of Israel,
Ehud Olmert, has said his country will have to withdraw from "almost
all" the land it captured in the 1967 war and divide Jerusalem in order
to agree long-awaited peace deals with the Palestinians and Syria.

His
comments, which were unusually far-reaching for an Israeli leader, came
in an interview with an Israeli newspaper ahead of the Jewish new year
and days after his resignation. He remains in his post in a caretaker
capacity and is thought unlikely to be able to follow through with any
of the proposals he has made.

In the long interview with two senior political columnists at the Yedioth Ahronoth
newspaper, Olmert talked about peace with the Palestinians and the
Syrians and continued to maintain his innocence over a series of
high-profile corruption investigations that in the end pushed him to
step down.

His most striking words came on the Palestinian issue.
"We have to reach an agreement with the Palestinians, the meaning of
which is that in practice we will withdraw from almost all the
territories, if not all the territories," Olmert said. "We will leave a
percentage of these territories in our hands, but will have to give the
Palestinians a similar percentage, because without that there will be
no peace."

Israel wants to keep some of the main settlement blocs
in the West Bank, but in return for any occupied land Israel keeps the
Palestinians want a land swap for territory of equal size and quality
within Israel. If a peace deal is ever struck, that land swap would
probably include a corridor linking Gaza and the West Bank.

At
another point, Olmert said: "In the end, we will have to withdraw from
the lion's share of the territories, and for the territories we leave
in our hands, we will have to give compensation in the form of
territories within the State of Israel at a ratio that is more or less
1:1."

Olmert said the withdrawal would have to include parts of
east Jerusalem, which Israel captured in the 1967 war. "Whoever wants
to hold on to all of the city's territory will have to bring 270,000
Arabs inside the fences of sovereign Israel. It won't work," he said.
The prospect of dividing Jerusalem remains hugely contentious within
Israel, although few believe a peace deal could work without a
Palestinian capital in east Jerusalem.

On Syria, he said his
government began secret talks in February last year and said he
believed that Israel would have to give up the Golan Heights in return
for Syria breaking its relationship with Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas.

Olmert
admitted his comments were rare. "What I am saying to you now has not
been said by any Israeli leader before me. The time has come to say
these things." He seemed to admit his thinking in the past had been
mistaken, particularly on his previous belief that Jerusalem should
remain wholly inside Israel. "I am not trying to justify retroactively
what I did for 35 years. For a large portion of these years, I was
unwilling to look at reality in all its depth," he said.

Olmert has taken a similar tone in several speeches since resigning, although he went further in this interview than before.

He
has been in office since early 2006 and although peace talks have been
under way with the Syrians and, for the past year, the Palestinians,
there has been no concrete progress. Instead, Jewish settlements have
continued to expand in the West Bank and the number of roadblocks and
checkpoints has increased. Olmert has put off talks on the future of
Jerusalem and adamantly refused to allow any Palestinian refugees to
return to what is now Israel, even though both are core issues to be
negotiated in peace talks.

Rather than being remembered for peace
negotiations, Olmert is more likely to be remembered as an unpopular
prime minister who was strongly criticised for his handling of the war
in Lebanon in 2006 and who faced a long series of embarrassing
corruption investigations - although no charges have yet been brought.

The
two journalists who interviewed Olmert, Nahum Barnea and Shimon
Shiffer, wrote that his goal was to leave a legacy, defend his conduct
and perhaps pave the way for a return to political office in the
future. "He places on the doorstep of his successor a foreign policy
doctrine, the likes of which has never been spoken by an incumbent
prime minister," they wrote.

They said it was legacy that might
make life harder for Tzipi Livni, who replaced Olmert as the head of
the ruling Kadima party and is now trying to form a coalition
government that would make her prime minister. She would be called on
to either back or reject Olmert's proposals and, as Barnea and Shiffer
noted, "there is no diplomatic fog in this interview that she can hide
behind".

 

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