JERUSALEM – Israel will have to give up “almost all” of the West Bank areas it occupies and accept the division of Jerusalem in order to take advantage of a rapidly closing window of opportunity for peace with the Arabs, outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said in an interview published Monday.
“The decision we are going to have to make is a decision we have been refusing for 40 years to look at open-eyed,” the Israeli leader told the Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharanot. “The time has come to say these things. The time has come to put them on the table.”
Olmert has resigned from the premiership because of a host of corruption investigations. He remains in a caretaker position while Tzipi Livni, his successor as head of the ruling Kadima Party, works to assemble a new government.
His interview with the prominent Israeli daily amounted to both a challenge to the Jewish state and a personal mea culpa. Although fresh rounds of talks with the Palestinian Authority and Syria were launched under his watch, Olmert conceded that some of the positions he was advocating in the interview – such as the division of Jerusalem – were things he opposed during most of his 35-year political career.
“I am the first who wanted to enforce Israeli sovereignty on the entire city,” said Olmert, a former mayor of Jerusalem who recalled opposing the 1978 Camp David accords between Israel and Egypt. “For a large portion of these years, I was unwilling to look at the reality in all its depth.”
The impact of Olmert’s statements is unclear as he is probably in the final weeks of his administration.
But it offered a telling portrait of Israeli political life and the restraints facing prime ministers who must hedge their views on land-for-peace deals and especially on Jerusalem in order to maintain their governing coalitions.
Since it became clear more than a month ago that Olmert would have to resign, he has charted an increasingly leftist course in a country where right and left often are defined by how much land one is willing to give up to the Palestinians.
In Monday’s story, from an interview conducted the day after his Sept. 21 resignation, he said Israel must “withdraw from the lion’s share of the territories.”