Olmert slams PM for not agreeing to US freeze demand

Former PM says both Obama administration and Netanyahu are wasting valuable time by focusing on such a "marginal" issue.

November 25, 2010 19:12
3 minute read.
Olmert speaks to foreign journalists in Jerusalem

Olmert speaks 311. (photo credit: Associated Press)


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Former prime minister Ehud Olmert took a rare public jab at his successor on Thursday, saying that Israel should agree to the US demand to halt settlement construction in the West Bank in order to restart Mideast peace talks.

Olmert suggested Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and the Obama administration are wasting valuable time by focusing on such a "marginal" issue, rather than tackling the essential issues at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

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US President Barack Obama has asked for a new three-month moratorium on settlement construction after a 10-month slowdown expired in September, causing peace talks to stall.

Netanyahu has yet to commit to a renewal, saying he is waiting for written US assurances. Palestinians say they won't return to negotiations without a total freeze.

Olmert, who resigned two years ago to face corruption charges, has largely kept a low profile since leaving office in early 2009 and has refrained from publicly criticizing Netanyahu.

Speaking to foreign correspondents, he said he wouldn't have agreed to a settlement freeze in the first place, saying it was more important to focus on larger issues like final borders, the fate of Palestinian refugees and the status of Jerusalem. But he said he would not turn down a request from Israel's closest ally and endanger ties.

"If someone says that he agrees to 10 months of freezing and the president of the mightiest nation on earth and friendliest nation to Israel comes to you and says 'please give me two (more) months, only two months,' I mean what could happen in two months?" he said. "I would say 'president, why two? Why not three? Take three!"

Olmert said both Israel and the US should instead focus on reaching a final peace deal with the Palestinians.

Since leaving office, Olmert has confirmed he made Israel's most far-reaching offer to the Palestinians, proposing a Palestinian state on close to 94 percent of the West Bank, and offering them the equivalent of the final 6 percent of territory in a land "swap."

Olmert said the Palestinians never responded to his offer, made in the final months of his term in office.

"I think that they made a mistake. I think that the fact that they didn't respond to my proposal was a historic mistake of the highest order that they will live to regret for a long time, until someone will come from our side with the same ideas," he said.

The Olmert plan would have also have turned over Arab neighborhoods in east Jerusalem to Palestinian control. Jerusalem's Old City, with its holy sites, one of the most intractable issues dividing the sides, was to be governed jointly by Israel, the Palestinians, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United States, he said.

Olmert doesn't deny air strike on Syria

Olmert also said he "can't deny" former US president George W. Bush's claim in a new book that Israel destroyed a suspected nuclear reactor in Syria.

At the time of the September 2007 incident, Syria announced that its airspace had been invaded by Israel. The government has never commented on what happened.

But in Bush's new memoir, the former president says both countries believed the site to be a reactor built with North Korean help. He also suggests that he was quietly pleased with the Israeli airstrike.

Olmert said he has seen Bush's account. While refusing to confirm it, he also said he would not deny it.

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