By Haaretz Service
Outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said in remarks published Monday that Israel would have to withdraw from East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights if it was serious about making peace with the Palestinians and Syria.
In an interview with the Yedioth Aharonoth daily, Olmert said that as a hard-line politician for decades he had not been prepared to look at reality in all of its depth.
"Ariel Sharon spoke about painful costs and refused to elaborate," Olmert told the daily. "I say, we have no choice but to elaborate. In the end of the day, we will have to withdraw from the most decisive areas of the territories. In exchange for the same territories left in our hands, we will have to give compensation in the form of territories within the State of Israel."
"I think we are very close to an agreement," Olmert added.
These comments were the clearest sign to date of Olmert’s willingness to meet key Palestinian demands in peace talks.
With regard to the Syria track, Olmert added that a future peace agreement required a pullout from the Golan Heights, an area under Israeli control since the 1967 Six-Day War.
"First and foremost, we must make a decision. I’d like to see if there is one serious person in the State of Israel who believes it is possible to make peace with the Syrians without eventually giving up the Golan Heights."
"It is true that an agreement with Syria comes with danger," he said. "Those who want to act with zero danger should move to Switzerland."
Yedioth Aharonoth noted that in this "legacy interview," published on the eve of the Jewish New Year, Olmert went further in making offers for peace than he ever did publicly when he was in active office and had greater power to see them carried out.
The interview was met with fierce criticism from politicians on both the right and the left.
MK Yuval Steinitz said the comments demonstrated the outgoing leader’s readiness "to ignore even the most crucial" of Israel’s needs.
"The prime minister’s concession the essential borders of defense is a gamble on the bone of existence, and the future of the State of Israel," Steinitz told Army Radio in response to Olmert’s comments.
"Ignoring the distance between rockets fired from afar and the enemy sitting on top of Jerusalem reveals how little he understands the basis of security," Steinitz added.
Former Meretz chairman Yossi Beilin criticized Olmert for having offered such concessions only on the eve of his departure from premiership.
"Olmert has committed the unforgivable sin of revealing his truce stance on Israel’s national interest just when he has nothing left to lose," said Beilin.
According to Western and Palestinian officials, Olmert has proposed in peace talks with the Palestinians an Israeli withdrawal from some 93 percent of the West Bank, plus all of the Gaza Strip, from which Israel pulled out in 2005.
The negotiations, which Olmert has vowed to continue until he leaves office when a new government is formed, have shown few signs of progress and both sides acknowledge chances are slim of meeting Washington’s target of a deal by the end of the year.
Olmert has also engaged Syria in indirect negotiations with Turkish mediation, but has not remarked publicly on the scope of an Israeli pullout from the Golan Heights.
Olmert has said repeatedly that Israel intends to keep major Jewish settlement blocs in the West Bank in any future peace deal with the Palestinians.
A peace agreement, Olmert has said, would mean Israel would have to compensate the Palestinians for the land it hopes to retain by "close to a 1-to-1 ratio."
In exchange for the settlement enclaves, Olmert has proposed about a 5 percent land swap giving the Palestinians a desert territory adjacent to the Gaza Strip, as well as land on which to build a transit corridor between Gaza and the West Bank.
He has so far put off negotiations on sharing Jerusalem and ruled out a so-called "right of return" for Palestinian refugees, a central Palestinian demand. On both issues, there is strong opposition in Israel to significant concessions.
Olmert, who has stepped down in the face of a possible criminal indictment in a corruption investigation, will remain caretaker prime minister until a new government is approved by parliament.
A week ago, President Shimon Peres asked Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, now leader of Olmert’s centrist Kadima party, to try to put together a governing coalition within six weeks. Failure to do so would likely lead to a parliamentary election.
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