Olmert: Settlement move is a slap in Obama's face

Speaking at Saban Forum, former PM says he'll do everything to help change leadership, but doesn't reveal political plans.

Olmert speaks at Saban Forum in Washington 370 (photo credit: Screenshot Brookings Institute )
Olmert speaks at Saban Forum in Washington 370
(photo credit: Screenshot Brookings Institute )
The government’s approval of 3,000 new housing units in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria was a slap in the face of US President Barack Obama, former prime minister Ehud Olmert said at the Saban Forum in Washington on Saturday night.
During a conversation hosted by David Ignatius, associate editor and columnist at The Washington Post, Olmert said Israel could not have made a more counterproductive move.
“This is the worst slap in the face of a US president,” he said.
He accused Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s government of showing its “gratitude” to Obama for opposing the Palestinian statehood bid at the UN General Assembly on Thursday by giving the green light for the construction of 3,000 housing units beyond the Green Line.
Olmert criticized the government’s conduct over the UN General Assembly vote which recognized Palestine as a non-member state, saying that had Israel spoken with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, the unilateral bid could have been prevented.
He charged that the government was “not being dedicated to the peace process in a realistic way that will bring peace.”
He asserted that the current regime and its policies must be changed, stressing that he would do everything he could to change the leadership.
“The government must be replaced,” he declared.
“I’m not a Palestinian patriot, I’m an Israeli patriot,” he said. “Time is running out not for the Palestinians – for Israel. And the sooner we reach an agreement that would determine that there are two states, for two nationalities, for two peoples, the better it is for Israel.”
Olmert also lashed out at the Palestinians, saying they had missed every opportunity to reach a peace agreement with Israel and that former PA leader Yasser Arafat had not been a genuine partner for peace, contrary to Abbas.
Ignatius probed Olmert about his possible return to politics; Olmert refused to provide any clues, however.
“I’m running, I run 11 kilometers every day,” he quipped.
He said he would make an announcement when he was back in Israel, rather than in the US.
“In any event, I am going to make a statement or an announcement to the public when I’m in Israel,” he said. “I don’t think it will be appropriate to make any announcement while I’m here. I don’t think it’s proper, I don’t think it’s the right way to do it.
“By the way, I think the same about American relations,” he added, referring to Sheldon Adelson’s support for Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney. “I don’t think that the right way to make announcements about American politics or to raise funds for American politics is to bring American voters to Israel in order to raise funds for an American presidency.” Romney and Adelson traveled to Israel in July in a much publicized fund-raising trip ahead of the US election.
He said he would be very active in the January 22 election campaign, and “what exactly I will do will be made clear in a very short time.”
Discussing his own efforts to make peace with Abbas in 2008, Olmert said that agreeing to concessions on Jerusalem was “the most difficult moment” of his life.
“It was very very painful,” Olmert told Ignatius, “and yet I knew there was no alternative.”
“If you want to make peace you have to be ready to make tough decisions – this is what you were elected for,” he said.
Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar on Sunday slammed as “scandalous” the critical comments about the government made by Olmert and Tzipi Livni at the Saban Forum in Washington over the weekend.
Olmert and Livni, who recently announced her new Tzipi Livni Party, both criticized the government for its decision to approve 3,000 new units in Jerusalem and the West Bank.
“This is irresponsible behavior on the part of members of the opposition such as Olmert, after the hate speech against Israel at the United Nations,” Sa’ar told Channel 10.
Sa’ar branded their behavior as “outrageous and irresponsible,” adding “this shows why they should stay out of politics.”