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Tehran, Obama hot topics at ‘Post’ conference
By TALI ARONSKY, JERUSALEM POST CORRESPONDENT
04/30/2012
Olmert accuses ministers of sabotaging negotiations with Abbas, says PM not doing enough to make peace.
 
NEW YORK – Ehud Olmert on Sunday accused ministers of working behind his back to sabotage his negotiations with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas when he was prime minister.

He spoke during a panel discussion at The Jerusalem Post Conference in New York.

This was part of the reason that Abbas did not accept his proposal for a two-state solution, Olmert said. He added that nevertheless, the Palestinians leader should have agreed to the deal.

“First and foremost, the Palestinians are guilty,” he said.

“They should have answered my plan, and they should have answered [Defense Minister Ehud] Barak’s plan.”

Olmert said Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was not doing enough to make peace.

Peace is in Israel’s interest, it should be initiating the process and not making excuses for why it has not happened, Olmert said.

“We are looking for excuses,” he said. “We should present [the Palestinians] with plans and let them respond.”

Settlement construction is not a new problem, it is an ongoing issue that has been at the heart of the controversy, Olmert said. But if an Israeli leader is sincere about peace, then he can continue to build in areas like Har Homa and Pisgat Ze’ev that everyone knows will be part of Israel in any final-status agreement, he added.

Olmert defended US President Barack Obama’s record with regard to Israel. In spite of the US economic crisis, he has not cut defense aid to Israel, Olmert said.

He added that he did not understand why former president George W. Bush, who wanted to divide Jerusalem and spoke of the 1967 lines, was considered a friend of Israel while Obama was viewed as the enemy.

Former Mossad chief Meir Dagan and Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan traded barbs during a heated panel discussion at the conference.

The discussion turned to comments made by former Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) director Yuval Diskin, who said last weekend that he has no confidence in Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak to conduct a war.

Erdan criticized Diskin, saying that “In order to save Israel, [Diskin] should have resigned, instead of waiting five years and making his comments.”

Speaking to a crowd of 1,000 mostly American Jews at the Post’s first-ever conference, a lineup of luminaries from Israel’s diplomatic and military corps, Harvard’s Prof.

Alan Dershowitz and Post reporters gave their views on a range of pressing topics ranging from Israel’s place in the new Middle East and its changing relationship with the US to the threat of a nuclear Iran.

Steve Linde, editor-in-chief of the Post, set the tone for the conference, which was held at the Marriott Marquis in Times Square only days after Israel celebrated its 64th Independence Day and half a year ahead of the paper’s 80th birthday.

Linde called Israel “the homepage of the Jewish people” and said that while Israel shouldn’t expect “likes from everyone,” the US Jewish community should be ready to stand up for Israel – our modern-day miracle – and not voice criticism that plays into the hands of Israel’s enemies.

Except for Olmert, who drew ire from the crowd when he spoke passionately in favor of a two-state solution, the majority of conference speakers were palatable to those assembled and spoke candidly about their concerns over a nuclear Iran, harsh lessons learned from the Holocaust, the need for a strong Israel, and the need for Israel to maintain good relations with the international community and with the United States, in particular.

At times it seemed that there were two very different sets of ears listening to the conference. On the one hand, the bulk of the attendees were from the centrist-right readership of the Post and of American Jewry, in general, who eagerly clapped when speakers called for Jonathan Pollard’s release and booed when Obama’s name was mentioned.

On the other side was the journalists sent by their bosses to cover the conference, mainly from Israeli media outlets (Ma’ariv, Haaretz, Yediot Aharonot, Makor Rishon, Israel Radio’s Reshet Bet, and television Channels 2 and 10). This group yawned at the speakers’ red-meat rhetoric of Israel as a homeland or calls for an undivided Jerusalem, but waited for mentions of Iran and nuanced comments by Israel’s military establishment.

Fortunately for both groups of listeners, The Jerusalem Post Conference did not disappoint in this arena. Advocating that America, and not Israel, be the one that leads the charge to stop Iran’s nuclear program, were Olmert and Gabi Ashkenazi, former IDF chief of staff, who wants to give economic sanctions a chance but stressed the need “for crippling sanctions,” adding ominously, “I worry [they] will be too late and too light.”

Ashkenazi was not alone in reframing the threat of a nuclear Iran as a threat to the entire Mideast and not just Israel. Dagan took it a step further saying a nuclear Iran endangers the entire international community and would lead to a dangerous nuclear arms race.

On the other side of the debate was Erdan, who repeatedly hammered home his point that Iran is pursuing a “stubborn path towards a nuclear bomb,” and that in response, Israel placed “a military option on the table... and we are not only talking about it.”

While many conference attendees intimated that they came to hear views in accordance with their own, the tone of the conference was serious and passionate precisely because of the shadow of the nuclear Iran threat. This mood carried over to the conference’s afternoon panels, which expanded on this thorny issue as well as Israel’s relationship with Jewish communities in the Diaspora and the media war against the delegitimization of Israel.

Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon on Sunday said that Israel is not isolated in the international community.

“When I read some newspapers, especially Haaretz in English, by the way, I feel isolated.”

That said, Ayalon stated that this feeling is not a reflection of reality.

“Forget about the United Nations,” he said. “This is not a true reflection of the international community.”

Elyezer Shkedy, former commander of the air force, on Sunday addressed the ongoing debate over the drafting of minorities into the IDF.

“The ultra-Orthodox want the existence of the State of Israel, just like me,” he said, calling on all Israeli citizens to participate in either the military or in civil service.

Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.
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