Likud: Olmert used Rabin ceremony for politicking

Netanyahu affirms he'll lead differently but says he'll continue peace negotiations with the Palestinians.

netanyahu hands up 224 8 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
netanyahu hands up 224 8
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
It is a sign of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's waning power that Monday's political conversations focused less on the content and more on what his critics said was the inappropriateness of Olmert's speech at Monday's graveside ceremony for slain Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Olmert called, almost in Rabin's name, for a withdrawal from portions of east Jerusalem and most of the territories. It was one of the more succinct public summations of Olmert's policy stance made to date. "We must relinquish Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem, and return to that territory which comprised the State of Israel until 1967, with the necessary amendments stemming from the realities created on ground," Olmert said as he looked out at members of Rabin's family. They were flanked by politicians from the Right and the Left who had gathered at Jerusalem's Mount Herzl Cemetery to mark the 13th anniversary of Rabin's death. Leaders from the Right immediately condemned the speech, stating that Olmert's comments were in poor taste and that he had exploited the moment by delivering such diplomatic statements at a cemetery. "It was inappropriate. It's a pity that there are those who would exploit Rabin's memory to advance an irrelevant agenda." said Shas Party leader Eli Yishai. The Likud was especially vocal in its disapproval. "I have to tell you, it was terribly hard to listen to a man who is a symbol of a failed and corrupt government and who is trying to preach about morality and the future of the Middle East. It was pathetic," said MK Yuli Edelstein (Likud). "He made it impossible for Israelis to mourn together," said MK Yuval Steinitz (Likud). MK Gilad Erdan, also of the Likud, proposed that "instead of giving up land, we should give up Olmert." National Religious Party leader Zevulun Orlev said that Rabin would not have even agreed with Olmert. "Rabin is turning over in his grave, after Olmert outflanked him on the left," he said. But in the Likud, they were comforted by the belief that his actual words were irrelevant, considering the party feels certain it is going to head the next government. Earlier in the day, Likud Party head Binyamin Netanyahu made headlines when he told Quartet envoy Tony Blair in a morning meeting that he would be willing to negotiate with the Palestinians. A number of reports jumped on his statement as a positive sign of change. But his spokesman Yossi Levy clarified to The Jerusalem Post that Netanyahu did not intend to indicate he would continue where Kadima left off, should he become prime minister. Olmert's statement does not represent Netanyahu or the Likud's policy, said Steinitz, who was in the meeting with Blair. The Likud leaders told Blair that it would not repeat the failures of the past, and that they included the bilateral Annapolis talks launched in November 2007 in this statement. "We made it very clear that we are going to advocate a different approach," said Steinitz. The meeting was described by Blair's spokeswoman as routine. Blair often meets with Israeli leaders when he visits Israel, she said, and added that he also spoke with Olmert, Kadima Party leader Tzipi Livni and Labor Party leader Ehud Barak. Netanyahu and Blair spoke one day after Livni and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas stood before a meeting of the Quartet in Sharm e-Sheikh and told them that the bilateral talks they had engaged in over the last year were progressing. At a Kadima faction meeting, Livni touted the success of the event, in which she said Israel had achieved all its objectives in that the international community agreed to initiate a new peace process to replace Annapolis. The Quartet also agreed not to intervene in the talks or to set a deadline for the creation of a final status agreement. Under Annapolis, all core issues including Jerusalem, refugees and borders are on the table. But according to Levy, it is Netanyahu and not the international community who wants to take the peace talks in another direction. Netanyahu would not, for example, negotiate over Jerusalem or refugees, said Levy. Instead, Netanyahu wants to focus on economic peace even as he continues to negotiate with the Palestinians, said Levy. "He doesn't want a photo-op. He wants to build peace from the bottom up," said Levy. Edelstein said he believes it was "obvious that under present conditions, it is not realistic to strike a peace agreement." What is needed, he said, was sincere and constant contacts with the Palestinian leadership so the two sides could build up trust.•