Former prime minister Ehud Olmert said Friday evening that a major obstacle to making peace with the Palestinians was the absence of trust between Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Olmert, in an interview with Channel 2 news, said that the process of building personal trust was critical for the possibility of reaching a peace agreement but that the trust between Netanyahu and Abbas was "below water level and nonexistent."
The former prime minister said that in his talks with Abbas in 2008 he made sure always to address the Palestinian leader by his official title as a way to build trust and to create a sense of equality.
Abbas turned down the far reaching concessions that Olmert made in 2008. The former prime minister could not explain why Abbas would be likely to accept an offer from Netanyahu when he rejected the generous 2008 offer. But Olmert noted that Netanyahu was not demonstrating the sufficient flexibility that would make a deal with Abbas even possible.
"I am sure that Netanyahu wants to reach a peace settlement. But I think that there is a huge gap between what Netanyahu is willing to offer Abbas and what everyone agrees is required to form the basis of an agreement," Olmert told Channel 2.
Olmert said that Abbas told him that he did not want to "change the character of the state of Israel" which he interpreted as the Palestinian president's willingness to be flexible on the Palestinian "right of return."
On the question of whether Abbas would recognize Israel as the homeland of the Jews, Olmert said that Abbas gave him an answer on the issue that would satisfy Israel at the end of a diplomatic process when a peace deal was reached. Olmert did not specify what Abbas's position was.
Netanyahu said at the beginning of the week, that it would be "absurd" for Israel to recognize a Palestinian state in the framework of a peace agreement without the Palestinians recognizing Israel as the Jewish state.