NEW YORK – Former prime minister Ehud Olmert refuted reports that he had already announced his candidacy for prime minister in the next general election in an interview with The Jerusalem Post behind the scenes at the Post’s conference in New York on Sunday.

Haaretz reported last week that Olmert had made such a declaration twice in a speech to Israeli businessmen two weeks ago at the London headquarters of the investment bank Goldman Sachs.

“I don’t read Haaretz,” Olmert said. “I have never given up my political aspirations but I did not announce anything. All I said in London was that I did not disappear from public life. I said they will hear from me and about me, and some took that as if I was already announcing. But it is far too early.”

Olmert expressed dismay that there was no serious candidate to challenge Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in the last election, and said he expected that to change in the next race. He said there was enough of a reservoir of available votes to beat Netanyahu.

He declined to comment about hints from Finance Minister Yair Lapid about the Yesh Atid leader’s prospective candidacy.

“It is unfair to talk about Lapid because he is in the coalition,” Olmert said. “If I say I will be a partner with Lapid in unseating Netanyahu, it would upset Netanyahu and make it hard for Lapid to work with him.”

Asked if polls could be used to decide who would be the best candidate to challenge Netanyahu, which happened in 1999, Olmert said: “I don’t believe in polls deciding who will run and not run. Polls are an instrument for deciding what to emphasize in election campaigns, but you don’t decide national priorities by testing public opinion.”

Regarding chances of diplomatic progress ahead of the next election, Olmert said “Netanyahu can make peace. The question is whether he wants to make peace within the framework of what is possible or with what is impossible and will never be realized.”

Former Mossad chief Meir Dagan, who is still under a cooling-off period that prevents him from engaging in political activity, said clearly in his speech at the conference that he would not run in the next election.

Former IDF intelligence chief Amos Yadlin also stated behind the scenes that he would not enter politics.

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