Olmert says Israel must internalize divided J'lem

Olmert to 'Post': Many political parties remain "detached from reality" of peace compromise.

Olmert sits back 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Olmert sits back 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Israel needs to internalize that even its supportive friends on the international stage conceive of the country's future on the basis of the 1967 borders and with Jerusalem divided, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has declared to The Jerusalem Post. At the same time, he made clear that he did not envisage a permanent accord along the '67 lines, describing Ma'aleh Adumim as an "indivisible" part of Jerusalem and Israel. In an interview at the start of a year that he hopes will yield a permanent Israeli-Palestinian peace accord, the prime minister said many rival Israeli political parties remain "detached from the reality" that requires Israel to compromise "on parts of Eretz Yisrael" in order to maintain its Jewish, democratic nature. If Israel "will have to deal with a reality of one state for two peoples," he said, this "could bring about the end of the existence of Israel as a Jewish state. That is a danger one cannot deny; it exists, and is even realistic." Indeed, his primary responsibility as prime minister, Olmert said, lay in ensuring a separation from the Palestinians. "What will be if we don't want to separate?" he asked rhetorically. "Will we live eternally in a confused reality where 50 percent of the population or more are residents but not equal citizens who have the right to vote like us? My job as prime minister, more than anything else, is to ensure that doesn't happen." The reality in which Israel was seeking an accommodation, he elaborated, includes a situation in which even "the world that is friendly to Israel... that really supports Israel, when it speaks of the future, it speaks of Israel in terms of the '67 borders. It speaks of the division of Jerusalem." What was extraordinary about US President George W. Bush, in this context, Olmert said, was that Bush, since a landmark letter he wrote to then-prime minister Ariel Sharon in 2004, has made plain that he envisages Israel maintaining at least some territory in Judea and Samaria. Bush "has already said '67 plus," said Olmert, "and that's an amazing achievement for Israel." Thus, Olmert asserted, while the road map obligated Israel to stop all building in the settlements, including for natural growth, the Bush letter "renders flexible to a degree the significance of what is written in the road map." In comments likely to further exacerbate Palestinian protest at ongoing settlement expansion, Olmert said he considered Ma'aleh Adumim to be "an indivisible part of Jerusalem and the State of Israel. I don't think when people are talking about settlements they are talking about Ma'aleh Adumim." At the same time, the prime minister expressed considerable empathy for Palestinian concerns over settlement growth. If the only construction work undertaken since the road map was accepted had been at Ma'aleh Adumim and Har Homa, he said, "then I imagine the Palestinians, though they might not have been happy about it, would not have responded in the way that they respond when every year, all the settlements - in all the territories - continue to grow. There is a certain contradiction in this between what we're actually seeing and what we ourselves promised. We always complain about the [breached] promises of the other side. Obligations are not only to be demanded of others, but they must also be honored by ourselves." While all the final-status issues were now on the table as part of the Annapolis process, Olmert stressed that he would never accept a Palestinian "right of return" to Israel. He said he was convinced, too, that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas "has made the choice in his heart" between clinging to the "myth of the 'right of return'" and the opportunity to establish a Palestinian state where all Palestinians, refugees included, would live. "My impression is that he wants peace with Israel, and accepts Israel as Israel defines itself," Olmert said. "If you ask him to say that he sees Israel as a Jewish state, he will not say that. But if you ask me whether in his soul he accepts Israel, as Israel defines itself, I think he does. That is not insignificant. It is perhaps not enough, but it is not insignificant." Asked whether next week's first Bush presidential visit was designed for Bush to become the godfather of the State of Palestine, Olmert said, "I don't think he would define a visit like this in those terms... He's coming as an expression of his friendship. Also, he's coming to give expression to his support for the diplomatic process." Bush was not pressuring Israel in any way, Olmert said. "He's not doing a single thing that I don't agree to," he said. "He doesn't support anything that I oppose." Rather, Olmert said, both he and the president hoped that the Annapolis timetable, for an accord in the course of 2008, could be met. Indeed, said the prime minister, there was currently an almost divinely ordained constellation of key personalities on the international stage favorably disposed to Israel, creating comfortable conditions for negotiations that might never be replicated. "It's a coincidence that is almost 'the hand of God,'" Olmert said, "that Bush is president of the United States, that Nicolas Sarkozy is the president of France, that Angela Merkel is the chancellor of Germany, that Gordon Brown is the prime minister of England and that the special envoy to the Middle East is Tony Blair." The imperative, he said, was to make every effort for progress while this array of supportive characters remained in place. "What possible combination," he asked, "could be more comfortable for the State of Israel?" Olmert said he believes "with all my heart" that kidnapped IDF soldier Gilad Schalit is alive and that he was "making every effort" to determine the situation of captive reservists Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser. He said he favored re-examining the criteria for Palestinian prisoner releases because "it may be that there is room for more precise definitions of what constitutes 'blood on hands.'" While Olmert said Egypt needed to do more to prevent arms smuggling into Gaza, he had high praise for President Hosni Mubarak. "When I even think of how things would be if we were dealing with people other than Mubarak, well, I pray every day for his well-being and good health," he said. Expansive on many issues, Olmert was insistently understated on the existential threat posed by Iran. Even in the wake of the recent US National Intelligence Estimate, he said, "The bottom line is that President Bush hasn't changed his opinion regarding the danger posed by Iran. And I haven't changed my impression regarding President Bush's commitment to prevent Iran from attaining nuclear weapons." But, he added: "Israel always acted and prepared for the possibility that it would need to defend its existence on its own. That's always been the case and that is the case today, wherever a threat to our existence can arise. Those who need to know do know that we have the tools to defend ourselves." The full interview with the prime minister will appear in Friday's Jerusalem Post.