What Ehud Olmert told us

Here's the context in which the premier said Israel was 'tired of fighting' and 'tired of winning.'

olmert 298.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
olmert 298.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Isi Leibler misquotes Ehud Olmert's remarks at an Israel Policy Forum gathering, which I attended, and provides no context for them ("Outright defeatism," Dec. 20). Many others have done the same in their zeal to criticize the Prime Minister's policies toward the Palestinians since his assumption of that office. It is time to set the record straight. In fact, it's long overdue. Below is a transcript of remarks Mr. Olmert delivered to Israel Policy Forum's annual event on June 9, 2005, while he was Vice Prime Minister and Ariel Sharon was Prime Minister and in good health - nearly 10 months before Olmert was elected Prime Minister. Mr. Leibler criticizes Olmert for saying to the Israeli media who covered the Annapolis conference that Israel "risked being compared to apartheid-era South Africa and 'if the two-state solution is shattered… the State of Israel is finished'." "What is this if not outright defeatism?" Leibler asks. It most certainly is not. Olmert's statement actually is forthright realism. If, as Leibler wishes, Prime Minister Olmert refuses to enter into talks to establish a two-state solution with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who has declared his desire to negotiate with Israel time and time again, Israel cannot remain a Jewish and a democratic state. If Israel holds on to the entire West Bank, Jews will become the minority in another generation or two. Israel will no longer be a Jewish state unless the Jewish minority holds onto power through undemocratic means. In other words, through a South Africa apartheid-like system. Similarly, Jerusalem will lose its Jewish majority if it continues to hold on to the Arab villages annexed after 1967, which were never part of the historic, holy city of Jerusalem. Israel is fortunate to have a leader able to understand and confront realities such as these, and adapt policies to changing realities. That was the theme of the first half of Olmert's remarks to the Israel Policy Forum on June 9, 2005, which were as follows: "There was a very strange experience that I was going through tonight. Everyone that came to me whispered in my ear, 'You know, Mr. Olmert, we are really happy that you came. It's so nice that you agreed to come' and, you know, similar such statements. And what I felt was that it really wasn't so simple for you to invite me, in the first place. And let me tell you something, it wasn't the most natural thing for me to accept the invitation. But I am very, very happy that I am here. And I am very, very happy that you invited me. "Thank you very much for this. And I will tell you why, why do I feel this way. Why do I feel for myself and why I dare say I feel happy for you that you have invited me. We have to depart from the old prejudices that somehow have dictated some of our positions in the past and to be able to break through the new horizons, which are developing for us in general, and this is also true about the internal relations within the Jewish people. I know that there are many people sitting here in this hall that feel very strange that a special letter of Ariel Sharon, Prime Minister of the State of Israel, is read in honor of the event of [the] Israel Policy Forum. You will all admit it. It's not the usual event where you get a letter from Prime Minister Sharon. And it's not so simple and natural for Ariel Sharon to write a letter for a very significant and important Jewish organization, which hasn't spared much love to him over the years. So, it only shows that things are changing. And, I'm very happy. "I'm very happy that things are changing. That doesn't mean though, don't get excited, that doesn't mean though, that Sharon and you will agree on everything. I'm not certain that even I will agree with you on everything. There are still some differences. But we come closer, and we must be very happy about it. We must be very happy that we can come across the barriers that separated us as we move forward, and we try to move the State of Israel forward into new policies, into new horizons, and into dramatic changes, which hopefully will bring, at the end, peace and security to ourselves and to the Palestinians, that will live alongside the State of Israel in an independent state of their own. "This is a remarkable process, which we are going through now. What the government of Ariel Sharon is doing is a dramatic change that will have an enormous impact on everything that will happen thereafter, in the State of Israel and in the Middle East. The most fundamental part of this change is the understanding that it is incumbent first and foremost upon ourselves to make the move, that we don't have to wait anymore, that we really don't need the United States to lead the process in the Middle East, we will lead this process in the Middle East. "We will lead it because it's good for us. And we will lead it because it may be good for the Palestinians. And we believe that if it will be good for us and will be good for the Palestinians, then it will be good. It will bring more security, greater safety, much more prosperity, and a lot of joy for all the people that live in the Middle East. "And we all desperately need it. We are tired of fighting, we are tired of being courageous, we are tired of winning, we are tired of defeating our enemies. We want that we will be able to live in an entirely different environment of relations with our enemies. We want them to be our friends, our partners, our good neighbors, and I believe that this is not impossible. It may not be as fast as we all want it to be, it may take longer than we expect, it is not as simple as it sometimes appears to the eyes of the outsiders that are not fully aware of all the complexities of the memories, and the biases, and prejudices and fears, and suspicions which characterize these relations between us and the Palestinians over such a long period of time. But this time I can say, that I have reached, as many of my colleagues, first and foremost the prime minister of Israel, that this is not impossible. That it is within reach if we will be smart, if we will dare, if we will be prepared to take the risks, and if we will be able to convince our Palestinian partners to be able to do the same. So that together we will move forward in this direction of building up different relations, better understanding, and greater trust between us and them." Seymour D. Reich is president of the Israel Policy Forum and past chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.