Olmert: Israel hasn't offered Golan

Only "bizarre people" stick to idea of greater Israel, PM says, calls MKs Elon, Eitam "peace haters."

olmert fadc 224 AJ (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
olmert fadc 224 AJ
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Monday denied allegations that he had put the Golan Heights on the negotiation table with Syria. "No obligations were offered - either spoken or in writing - to Syria," he saidduring a rare appearance in the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. "All I said from February 2007 until May 2008 was 'I know what you want and you know what I want.'" The statement contradicted the Syrian claim, made since the negotiations were announced last week, that Israel had already agreed to cede the Golan Heights. Olmert added that he could prove that four previous prime ministers had held negotiations with Syria and had been "ready to offer extremely painful concessions." "Everybody who has sat on my side of the table as prime minister understands that this kind of thing must be done with the maximum level possible of carefulness," he said. Olmert also argued that he had faith that an agreement could be reached with the Palestinians by the end of 2008 and that Israel was running out of time to make such a deal. The prime minister went to great lengths to explain how his vision of Israel's position toward the Palestinians had changed throughout the years. He argued that the international consensus was shifting to support a one-state solution involving a pluralistic, multi-confessional country - and that the government was now faced with the decision of holding on to the dream of Greater Israel or ensuring the future of Israel as a Jewish state. "Only hallucinating people can still stick to the perspective" of the idea of Greater Israel, Olmert asserted. Olmert also said that current government policy aimed on the one hand to prevent Hamas from taking control of the West Bank, as they had in Gaza, and on the other, to guarantee an increased freedom of movement throughout the West Bank. Although Israel isn't negotiating with Hamas, he said, there were messages conveyed through the Egyptians that Israel was willing to open crossings into Gaza - except for Rafah - for the sake of transferring humanitarian goods. The opening of crossings, he warned, would be dependent on progress in the negotiations for the release of captive IDF soldier Gilad Schalit. But before Olmert spoke, head of the IDF's Research Division Brig.-Gen. Yossi Baidatz offered a somewhat grimmer picture of Israel's would-be negotiating partners. Syria, he said, does not intend to change its relations with Iran, and is continuing to arm Hizbullah, which is rebuilding its forces both north and south of the Litani River, with a focus on rocket capability. In the West Bank, Baidatz said, Mahmoud Abbas's control over the area is declining, and there is a chance that Abbas might not run for re-election in the upcoming elections in January if he does not achieve significant progress in negotiations with Israel. Olmert also offered up tough talk against his opponents, particularly MKs Benny Elon and Effi Eitam of NU-NRP, who interrupted his explanations with references to the criminal investigations against him. "Whoever is looking for something else will find me ready for battles - and I don't fear battles," said Olmert. Later, he described Elon and Eitam as "haters of peace who drag us into endless wars in order to avoid giving up a single particle of land. From your perspective, there are no limits to what you will do."