Olmert: W. Bank policies behind bad int'l press

Former PM says public diplomacy hurt by presence in territories, "while millions of Palestinians live there without equal rights."

May 24, 2013 03:07
2 minute read.
Former prime minister Ehud Olmert.

Olmert looking concerned 370. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post )

The government is at fault for its own negative image in the international press because of its policies in the West Bank, former prime minister Ehud Olmert said Thursday.

“I think it is inarguable that Israel’s main problem isn’t public diplomacy; it’s first of all a policy problem,” Olmert said. “We won’t be able to convince the world we’re right unless our reality changes.”

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The former prime minister spoke at the launch event at Bar-Ilan University for Media War: Reaching for Hearts and Minds, a book by MK Nachman Shai (Labor) about Israeli public diplomacy in times of conflict.

“As long as we are in the [West Bank] territories while millions of Palestinians live there without rights equal to those of Israelis, almost no public diplomacy efforts can compete with the claim that this policy leads to extreme responses, including violence,” Olmert stated.

“Some think the current government’s policies are the right ones that will ensure our survival, but many in the nation and the vast majority of the international community do not agree,” he said.

Referring to the recent government investigation finding that Muhammad al- Dura was not killed by IDF fire in 2000, Olmert posited that “whether or not al- Dura was shot is not what will convince people that we’re right or wrong.”

“[The al-Dura probe findings] will not influence treatment of Israel as long as [the international community] agrees that the current policy cannot be accepted,” he added.

Olmert brought the massacre of the Fogel family in Itamar by two Palestinian men in 2011 as proof of his point, pointing out that while the murder was tragic, international news sources – “some that aren’t necessarily anti-Israel,” he said – argued that the Fogels should not have been living in the West Bank.

“Of course that’s a terrible, inhumane response, but we’re dealing with a problematic situation. It’s not public diplomacy; it’s policy,” the former prime minister argued. “In the years Israel looked like a country willing to go far for peace, we had less of a public diplomacy problem.”

Still, Olmert said he disagrees with those who claim there is no peace because of Israel, saying it’s because of the Palestinians, but that most of the world does not see things that way.

“I am convinced with all my heart that – not because of our image, but for the good of the State of Israel – there is no choice but to do things that involve great pain for us. They are unavoidable,” he concluded.

Earlier Thursday, reporter Avi Issacharoff wrote in Sof Hashavua magazine, published by The Jerusalem Post Group, that during Olmert’s premiership, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas rejected the most generous offer Israel has made in peace talks to date.

At a meeting in the Prime Minister’s Residence in September 2008, Olmert offered the Palestinians a state. He also agreed to land swaps, in which Israel would keep major West Bank settlements and cede land near Afula and Beit She’an, a part of the Judean Desert north of Jerusalem and an area near Gaza. The West Bank and Gaza would be connected by a tunnel.

In addition, according to Olmert’s plan, neither Israel nor the Palestinian state would have sovereignty over holy sites in Jerusalem; rather, a five-member group would oversee the area.

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