‘Every solution will be painful’

By David Horovitz January 3, 2008

In an interview with the Post to usher in the new calendar year, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert waxes poetic about ‘our friend’ in the White House, warns of the dangers of a one-state solution and wishes he were at liberty to provide the public with more details of everything he’s doing to serve Israel

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert sat comfortably behind his desk at his official residence in Jerusalem looking refreshed and seeming buoyant. He had recently met in the same room with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and was in a good mood – less sarcastic than he can be, less fidgety than is sometimes his wont.

Of Abbas he spoke pleasantly: Olmert said the PA leader genuinely wanted peace and that in his heart of hearts he recognized Israel as a Jewish state. In fact, the prime minister had warm things to say about all those whom he mentioned by name during the course of the hour-plus interview: Russian President Vladimir Putin, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Jordanian King Abdullah II and US President George W. Bush.

Especially Bush. Two large photos of Olmert and Bush grace the prime minister’s study: one with Olmert’s hand on the president’s shoulder, and the other of the two of them strolling, apparently engrossed in deep conversation. Olmert is proud of those pictures; he mentioned them twice; they reflect the relationship he has cultivated with Bush. “President Bush is a giant friend of ours,” Olmert said. “One of his most senior aides said that… he doesn’t know of another relationship with similar intimacy, a bond of souls, as that between Israel and the United States.”

Even though Olmert has made clear he would be willing to make deep concessions to the Palestinians – and noted in this interview that even Israel’s best friends see a future in which Israel ultimately won’t be much larger than the 1967 lines – few people actually believe that Olmert and Abbas will reach an agreement by the end of this year. But, while some speculate that Olmert wants to drag out negotiations until after the US elections in November to see who will be the next US president, Olmert argued the exact opposite.

He said that if an agreement is to be signed with the Palestinians, it is preferable to negotiate it with Bush in the White House, and with a supporting cast of friends in key capitals around the world – like Nicolas Sarkozy in Paris, Angela Merkel in Berlin and Gordon Brown in London. Throw the Quartet’s envoy Tony Blair into the mix, and what you have, in Olmert’s view, is almost “the hand of God.”

That’s an interesting description, all the more so since, following the Second Lebanon War in 2006, the conventional wisdom was that it would take nothing less than divine providence to keep Olmert in office at the end of 2007. The past year was one during which he faced the damning interim report of the Winograd Committee, unparalleled low poll numbers, a number of scandals and a fragile coalition that rests on the support of two parties, Shas and Israel Beiteinu, whose ideologies run counter to what Olmert says must be done ultimately with the Palestinians: separate by making deep concessions based largely along the 1967 lines.

But survive Olmert did. And in the world according to the prime minister, his government – judging by the ease with which it passed the 2008 budget – is effective and stable; most Palestinians understand that there will be no “right of return”; a majority of Israelis will support an agreement he thinks is fitting; the Russians are not Israel’s enemies; the Syrians should prove themselves as potential peace partners and may do so; and as far as the Iranians are concerned, “Israel is a strong state and it has the capacity and the will to prevent a circumstance in which it will stand in existential danger.”

In this interview, on the occasion of the new calendar year, Olmert looked forward with neither boundless euphoria nor deep gloom to the challenges facing the country. But he looked forward as prime minister, preparing to host a first Bush presidential visit, and with relative confidence about retaining his post for a while. Few people a year ago would have bet on that.

You’ve said several times that it is vital to Israel that we reach a two-state solution. Can you elaborate? You’ve even been quoted saying the country is finished if that can’t be achieved.
I never said exactly that, and I’ve also stressed publicly that I never used those words. Sometimes it happens in newspapers, not yours of course, that a half sentence is taken from the beginning, and a half sentence from the end, and everything is lost in the middle.
I said that if the solution of two states for two peoples is not realized – and Israel will have to deal with a reality of one state for two peoples – that 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…
There is a picture over there (Olmert points to a black-and-white photograph at the side of his office) of my parents at a young age, taken in 1930. They were born in Russia, in the Ukraine, but went to China in 1917 when the Jews fled from the Russian Revolution. In the world of 1930, the end of the ’20s, when there was no CNN, no digital world, no satellites and no communications that crossed continents, mountains and oceans in a flash, the Zionist idea [nonetheless] seeped to the end of the world, to northern China, and reached the Jewish community in Harbin and conquered the hearts of my parents. They immigrated to Israel in 1933, and they immigrated – this I know from them – to live in a Jewish democratic state.
It was inconceivable to them that in their son’s generation there would be a threat to the very Jewishness of the State of Israel… [to] the nature, character and purpose of the State of Israel as a Jewish state. We must provide an answer to that question. We cannot ignore it.
Can Israel continue to hold on to the territories from the Jordan to the sea, [with] a non-Jewish population that even now is approaching the number of Jews in Israel, and taking into consideration that, with the reproduction rate, the [Arab population] can surpass [the Jewish population] in 20 or 30 years? What will be if we don’t want to separate? 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?
The moment that happens, the threat [to Israel's Jewish democratic character] is likely to be realized. My job as prime minister, more than anything else, is to ensure that doesn’t happen.

But do the Palestinians – who also understand the demographic process – truly want a viable two-state solution? The impression is that this idea is losing ground with them.
The vast majority of the Palestinians want to live in their own state… But the question of whether or not they want this is not the measure by which I need to judge things. The question is whether we understand, and we do understand, that we need to draw the necessary conclusions, and also pay the price. And the price is very high, and there are risks.
I don’t live in a bubble… I know what I am dealing with, who the Palestinians are. There are many people who in my opinion want to live in peace with us. But there are terrorist groups, fundamentalists, fanatics, those without any tolerance, who live according to a value system completely different than the value system of the Western world, which we are a part of. And that is a threat.
There are no simple solutions… Every solution will be painful, but we have to deal with it. We cannot close our eyes… In the end we will find a way to a solution. First, we have to seriously try the path of negotiations. And that is what we are doing now.

And how is it going? Has anything moved since Annapolis?
We are talking about a conflict of 100 years, or if you want 60 years, and you are asking about what has happened in three or four weeks since Annapolis, about why the world has not turned upside down. This is a process that takes time…
Look, Abu Mazen [Abbas] and Abu Ala [Ahmed Qurei] sat in this room [last Thursday]. I imagine that if you would have asked me 30 years ago what I thought about Abu Mazen – and 30 years ago I was a Knesset member – I almost certainly would have said that he was a terrorist. He was a member of Fatah, which had on its banner the end of the existence of the State of Israel, and was not even ready to think about the recognition of Israel or peace with Israel.
You sit with Abu Mazen today and he unequivocally speaks about recognizing Israel, and about peace with Israel. He has signed agreements with us. He said he wants to fulfill those agreements and believes in them.
There has been a change, and it is not only with him. You hear [the same from] Salaam Fayad, his prime minister. I’m not saying that there are no differences [between us]. There are. They want more territory; I want to give less territory. They want parts of Jerusalem that I will never separate from. But they want peace with me, and that is to say there has been a certain change…
Has there been a change in the Palestinian stance on the refugee issue? I think it is possible to solve the refugee problem, in a way that will not threaten the Jewish identity of Israel. I do not accept the principle of a “right of return.” I don’t accept it and I never have…
The idea of a right of return was born at the end of the 1940s, at the beginning of the ’50s, when there was a refugee problem. It is not important now what the size was, or the cause, but there was a problem. I don’t think we intentionally created it. The creation of Israel created a reality of which one result was refugees.
When they thought of a solution, since they did not think of establishing a Palestinian state, the only solution that seemed [possible] was a return to the places from which they had left. The whole idea of the establishment of a Palestinian state is to enable those same people to live in a Palestinian state, and not in the State of Israel.
So to speak today about a solution to the refugee problem in the terms that were right in the ’50s or ’49 is to be cut off from reality. We believe in our hearts that they are the ones who prevented a solution so many years earlier. They think that we are to blame for it.
One thing is certain: The reality of today is different from what it was then. So that solution [of a refugee return] is not relevant to today’s reality. It will not come to pass. The entire world agrees to the establishment of a Palestinian state that will be vital, contiguous, free and democratic, that will live alongside Israel and that will be established so the Palestinians live in it. It can’t be that a Palestinian state will be established so that the Palestinians will come to live in Israel…

As long as Hamas is so strong, can Abu Mazen be flexible on the refugee issue or anything else?
Abu Mazen is not in control of Gaza, so a strong Hamas in Gaza does not add or detract from his ability to reach understandings… That is their test. In the final analysis the Palestinians will need to choose between the myth of the “right of return” and their possibility to establish a Palestinian state, where the Palestinians will live. This is their choice.
Our choice is between our very natural desire to live in the whole Land of Israel, which in all our hearts we believe is ours, and the need to compromise on parts of Eretz Yisrael to ensure the existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish state. We need to decide, and they also need to decide.
And I am not sure that everyone on our side is ready for the decision. There are many parties in the Knesset who are talking in a way that is detached from this reality.

Then allow me to ask a political question. Maybe this is premature, but if Israel Beiteinu and Shas leave the coalition [over the Annapolis process], do you have the numbers in the Knesset to continue?
I have to do what is good for Israel and its future. I can’t put the political considerations of the government before every other consideration – that is not right. With that, I am a political person, and I understand that without a parliamentary majority, and governmental stability, it is impossible to carry out the right things that I want to do. It is necessary to find the right balance.
I have been able to find this balance up to now, perhaps beyond the expectations of some people who thought for a long time that this government would not make it. The fact is that we completed the approval of the budget. Remind me of one time when a government of Israel approved a budget before the end of December. This was done smoothly and seriously, finding the right mechanisms and not going beyond any of the vital economic parameters…
The government is stable, and we will find the way to preserve the stability without giving up our commitment to a diplomatic process…

Would you continue on the basis of a Knesset majority of around 60 [if Shas and Israel Beiteinu were to leave], with Meretz?
The current makeup of the government is excellent, and there is no reason to change it. I don’t want to change it.

If you reach an agreement with the Palestinians in 2008, will you bring that to a referendum, or hold elections?
It is too early to talk about that now. It is clear that in the final analysis an agreement needs to reflect the will of the people. The Knesset today reflects the will of the people. There is a decisive majority in this Knesset for a diplomatic process. So we’ll see what will be – what kind of agreement we will get to, how, if we will [reach one].
I believe that the decisive majority of Israelis, and a majority in the Knesset, will be able to support an agreement that I will be able to sign.

Did you discuss substance in your latest meeting with Abu Mazen, or again did they bring up Har Homa and you talk about security?
We also discussed issues of substance, primarily in the private meeting between me and Abu Mazen. We are making progress. They put on the table the questions that are bothering them, including the issue of construction in the settlements and the settlements – and that is understandable to me – and I presented them with our concerns and our positions.
The fact is that we continue to talk. That doesn’t mean that we already agree on everything. We need to talk a lot, a real lot.
Look, the teachers’ strike took two months of negotiations and was hard to finish; our conflict with the Palestinians will not end in one meeting or 50 meetings between me and Abu Mazen.
The question is whether we feel a commitment to continue in this process. I am coming to discussions with the Palestinians from an emotional position that is different from that of some other Israeli politicians dealing with this.
I know to the depths of my soul the heavy price in blood that we paid for generations because of Arab and Palestinian hatred toward us. I saw that pain, perhaps more than others, because I was the mayor here for many years, in the most difficult days in the modern history of Jerusalem. Day after day I would see my residents, my citizens, little kids, families torn apart on the streets.
I will never forget the scene I saw at the Cafe Moment, today called Restobar, just 50 meters from the prime minister’s residence. There was a horrible blast. I went there as mayor. Naturally they let me get closer than other people. I saw through a window how people sat on their chairs as if they were waiting for a waiter to bring them a glass. Everybody sitting in position. But they were all dead. It was horrible.
I remember the victims of the Sbarro attack… of the bus from Gilo to Patt…
But I am also aware that there was a great deal of suffering on the other side… For decades the Arab states showed an exaggerated degree of detachment, neglect and lack of caring for the Palestinians. But it is also impossible to ignore the fact that thousands, tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands, lived in [refugee] camps for decades, in horrible conditions. Many of them live there today.
And I know that if we cannot find the mechanism that will allow them to live with the feeling of dignity, without the feeling of perpetual insult, as they live with today, we will not be able to create the dynamic that makes peace.

Plainly you’ve made the choice that you mentioned [between "our very natural desire to live in the whole Land of Israel" and the need to compromise to ensure Israel's existence "as a Jewish state"]. Do you think Abu Mazen has made that choice as well [between "the myth of the 'right of return' and their possibility to establish a Palestinian state"]?
I think that Abu Mazen has made that choice in his heart. I can’t speak for him. I think he made the decision. My impression is that he wants peace with Israel, and accepts Israel as Israel defines itself.
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.

You represent the nation. He represents only half his nation. Doesn’t that create a problem?
I was not personally elected by 62 percent of my people. He was. OK, all Gazan residents today are under the dictatorial and violent government of Hamas. I can’t say today how many residents in Gaza would vote for him, and you don’t know how many residents in Judea and Samaria would vote for him. [But] the polls show that he would receive a big majority, and Fatah would get a big majority if there were elections today in Gaza…

Regarding Syria, there seems to be a disconnect. We apparently hit a target in Syria [on September 6] that was so threatening as to require action. At the same time, you are talking very positively about Syria and about your willingness to open discussions with Syria, and separate Syria from Iran. Where does the optimism spring from, if up until just a little while ago they were such a serious threat?
First of all, I don’t know [about September 6], and if I do know, I don’t want to talk about what was. If I wanted to talk, I wouldn’t have waited until today.
I need to ask myself one question: Let’s say that there is a danger with the Syrians, and that it could get worse because of their links with the Iranians, Hizbullah and Hamas. Is it in my interest that this not happen, or is it in my interest that this axis of evil continues to flourish, develop and widen?…
It would be good for Israel if we could get a peace arrangement with Syria. It is clear that there would be a price for this peace, but also benefits. The Syrians will have to decide if they are prepared for this.
I can only say that it is necessary to check whether it is possible to conduct a serious, deep and true discussion [with Damascus]… They say they want to make peace. I hope they mean what they say…
A year, year and a half ago, people came to me with criticisms during interviews, asking why I don’t want peace with Syria. I said that was not correct, that I do want peace. Then they asked why we were caving in to American pressure, and that the Americans don’t want [Israel to talk to Syria]. That’s also not true.
As you can see from the pictures (on the office wall of Olmert with US President George W. Bush), I have very good relations with Bush. We have talks at a level of intimacy that perhaps doesn’t exist between the leader of the most important country in the world and other leaders… And the president never told me not to conduct negotiations with Syria. Never. It is up to us…
There will not be peace with Syria if Syria is connected to Hamas, Hizbullah and Iran and continues to encourage the actions it is encouraging. That is perfectly clear. It is either/or.

Do they need to cut those ties before talks begin?
I am not setting public conditions about what I want from the Syrians. That’s not appropriate… I never demanded or accepted preconditions.

Does Egypt want to mediate between Israel and Syria?
I don’t think so… I imagine that the Egyptians, like all Arab states, would be pleased were there peace between Israel and Syria…
[Egyptian President Hosni] Mubarak is a very impressive man. He is very stable. He defended the [peace] agreement with Israel during difficult periods in Egypt. Why should he not want peace between Israel and Syria? It is natural. Certainly the same is true of [Jordan's] King Abdullah II, who is an exceptional man.

Turning to the issue of Iran. Are the Iranians further ahead [in their nuclear program] than the Iraqis were 26 years ago? And if Russia is selling them ever more sophisticated air defenses, does that limit us and create a situation where it is harder to postpone a response?
The Iranian threat is… a combination of several factors. First of all, the nature of the Iranian regime – non-democratic, extremist, built on hatred and detached from all the basic values of Western culture. It sustains the anti-Israeli Islamic extremist movements. It nurtures them, strengthens them, encourages them. Iran is also, to my sorrow, advanced and developed in the technological areas, so it has the capabilities to develop weapons that can constitute a real danger. And it is also a very rich country, so it has the means to do all this. It has the world’s second largest oil reserves and giant reserves of gas, producing immense income. That’s where the threat stems from.
The Iranians also state clearly and crudely that Israel needs to be wiped off the map. Once they said that we should be sent to Germany. Now they say we should be sent to Alaska. That’s a very problematic approach.
I would suggest that we put aside the Russian aspect for the moment. I don’t think Russia is our enemy. President Putin is a very impressive man… He stresses repeatedly [to me] that he won’t allow Israel’s security to be harmed… He naturally wants to look after the global interests of his country. But he told me he will never be one-sided on issues where Israel is affected. Quite the reverse…

Last year when we spoke at length with you here, you expressed confidence that one way or another President Bush would handle the Iranian threat. When we spoke with you in Washington a few weeks ago, at the time of the Annapolis summit [and you had just met with Bush], you gave us a very vague response about having had very interesting discussions with the president on the subject. Since then the American National Intelligence Estimate has come out, apparently preventing President Bush [in his final year] from taking military action against Iran…
The NIE summarizes the stance of the American intelligence agencies. The bottom line, it says, is that there is no smoking gun by which we can prove that Iran is currently developing weapons systems for mass destruction.
It does talk of the fact that Iran is engaged in uranium enrichment. And President Bush says that his interpretation is that there is no potential use for the uranium they are enriching other than for an atomic bomb.
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.
Now, what we are doing and not doing, and what he and I talk about when we stroll on the White House lawns, well, that would greatly interest you, but I can’t tell you.

But the NIE limits his room for action, no? And where does that leave us?
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.
Let me remind you that President Bush said a few days ago, after he knew what the thinking was in the American intelligence community, that an attack on Israel is like an attack on America. That’s quite some statement. I don’t recall him saying that about other countries.
So America is a faithful ally. And Israel is a strong state and it has the capacity and the will to prevent a circumstance in which it will stand in existential danger. Beyond that I don’t think anything else needs to be said.

On the Winograd report, you’ve been quoted as saying that you don’t intend to resign no matter what its content. How can you respond to a report you haven’t seen yet?
I haven’t responded to the report and I’m not going to respond to the report now. I said I would respond to the report when I read it. It’s premature…

Going back to the Palestinians, are you in favor of changing the criteria [for prisoner releases]?
I’m in favor of checking the criteria… For example, when you say a prisoner “with blood on his hands,” can there be a circumstance where somebody who didn’t harm or injure a Jew or kill a Jew but, say, was part of an apparatus whose members did do something [like that], can one say that he has blood on his hands? Maybe there are definitions that need reexamining.
The subject was raised and I charged a committee with checking it, with the participation of several senior ministers and in consultation with the security services. We’ll see what they recommend. It may be that there is room for more precise definitions of what constitutes “blood on hands.”

Has anything happened in the last month to give you room for more optimism as regards [kidnapped soldier Cpl.] Gilad Schalit?
I believe with all my heart that Gilad Schalit is alive. We’re making very considerable efforts. I don’t want to go into the details or make predictions. My experience has told me that where these matters are concerned, the less that is said the better.

Can you express the same confidence about [kidnapped reservists] Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser?
I can’t say that I know what their situation is. I can say that I am making every effort to establish what their situation is. Again, I don’t want to go into details… Lives are at stake.
I sit here and every day I make determinations where lives are at stake and I can’t always talk about them. But I always carry that responsibility. I’ve never fled responsibility and I’ve never avoided taking decisions, but I can’t talk about it.
Sometimes it would make life much easier for me if I could tell you what we’ve decided, what we’ve done, how we’ve served the people of Israel and how we’ve been able to rein in people who threaten us. But my sense of responsibility obligates me to restrain myself.
Sometimes this causes a certain amount of misunderstanding vis-a-vis the public, or anger, or lack of support.

Could you clarify your position on building settlements and tell us whether the Americans accept this in the context of the road map?
We will honor our obligations as set out in the road map. It’s very simple. Take the road map. What’s written there will be honored.

What’s written is that Israel must stop building in the settlements, including for natural growth.
That’s true. That’s the obligation. And if everything began and ended with that, then that’s what we have to do according to our commitment.
But as you know well, America, which sponsored the road map, President Bush, on April 14, 2004, sent a letter that said one can’t ignore the demographic reality unfolding in the territories and that this will certainly need to be given expression in the agreements between us and the Palestinians. And this, I would say, renders flexible to a degree the significance of what is written in the road map.
I have announced that the State of Israel will not build new settlements and will not confiscate land for this purpose, and I intend to keep the obligation.

So what can we build within the settlements? What about Ma’aleh Adumim?
Ma’aleh Adumim is 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.

Well the world does seem to and so do the Palestinians. And the same goes for Har Homa.
The Palestinians have a concern which, from their point of view, is legitimate. I imagine that if since the road map was accepted all that had occurred was the expansion of Ma’aleh Adumim and Har Homa, then 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.
So there is a certain problem here. We have obligations related to settlements and we will honor them.

Why are the Egyptians not doing more at the border [to stop arms smuggling]?
I have demanded repeatedly of President Mubarak to show more determination in honoring his obligations in relation to the Philadelphi corridor and the almost nightly smuggling from Sinai into Israel. They have to do this and I hope they will do this…
I voted against the Camp David accords [on peace with Egypt] in 1978. I remember the conversation I had with [then prime minister Menachem] Begin about this. Begin had said he wouldn’t speak to anybody [to try to influence their vote]. But he walked with me for three-quarters of an hour, back and forth in the Knesset foyer. When I said I couldn’t vote in favor, he said to me, ‘You’ll be the man of conscience and I’ll be the man who sold the land of Israel?’ He said very harsh things to me. But I couldn’t come to terms with it and I told him I’d vote against.
And I’ll tell you now, from the perspective of almost 30 years, thank God for Menachem Begin. He was right and I was wrong. The agreement with Egypt was an historic turning point in the annals of the State of Israel, and Begin had the extraordinary courage to change his position. Before he gained power, he had said he would immediately impose Israeli law on Judea and Samaria, on all parts of the land of Israel. But he did the opposite. Not the exact opposite, but he gave up all of Sinai and he was prepared to come to terms essentially with the fact that there would never be Israeli sovereignty in Judea and Samaria.
He spoke of autonomy. He spoke of an arrangement that was something of an avoidance of conflict with the reality, but he understood that we would not be able to realize our sovereignty throughout Judea and Samaria…
As I said, [peace with] Egypt was a historic turning point. That doesn’t mean we agree on everything or that they always do what we want. But 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.

Is President Bush’s visit next week going to make history? Is he coming to be the godfather of the state of Palestine?
I don’t think he would define a visit like this in those terms. First and foremost, President Bush is a friend of Israel. In all my years of public life, since 1973, I don’t recall that America was led by someone as friendly since the days of president Ford. Ford was a good, wise friend of Israel, very different from the image. He died a year ago, I met with him about a dozen times in the last dozen years…
From his day until today I don’t recall another president who systematically and consistently showed the same level of commitment to Israel as George W. Bush. He’s also a great guy. I know that people say all kinds of things about him. Gentlemen, he’s a graduate of Yale and Harvard. People don’t graduate from Yale and Harvard without wisdom and understanding of processes and domestic and international relationships. He’s a very wise man…

So what is the goal of the visit?
He’s coming as an expression of his friendship. Also, he’s coming to give expression to his support for the diplomatic process. I know some people have said to Bush a few times, “What are you doing? This could harm Israel.” He said in response, “I don’t hear that from the people who represent Israel.”
That’s correct. Does any of us seriously think that the establishment of a diplomatic process is bad for Israel, that it shouldn’t happen? He’s not doing a single thing that I don’t agree to. He doesn’t support anything that I oppose. He doesn’t say a thing that he thinks will make life harder for Israel.
But we have to understand something. The world that is friendly to Israel – not the world comprised of fanatics and extremists – the world 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. We must remember this.
Also remember, there was a government in Israel that was prepared in 2000 to divide not merely Jerusalem but to divide the Old City, to give up sovereignty on the Temple Mount. The Temple Mount? That was the stance of our prime minister. Afterward, when the Palestinians didn’t accept it, we declared it null and void. That’s what we said. But the memory is sometimes stronger than the decisions. Now President Bush is a giant friend of ours…

And Bush wants the Annapolis time frame [of a permanent accord in 2008] to be met?
He doesn’t apply pressure. No, he doesn’t apply pressure. He would like [that timetable met]. I don’t know if I will be able to meet the timetable and I never promised that I would. I said that I hoped so, but I don’t know.
But let me ask you: If there’s a chance to reach an agreement and to get assistance to complete an agreement, what is better for us, that it be done in the era of President Bush or that of another president when we at the moment can’t exactly know who that president will be and what his positions will be? Think about it.
Now, it may be that in the end it turns out that there is no chance [to reach an accord inside a year].

But you would hope so?
I would hope so. I would like to stand with this man (Olmert points to a picture of himself walking with Bush) and tell him, “These are the red lines.” He knows from me what the red lines are. And I want the United States to support those red lines. With him I know for certain that he backs our red lines… Even though he, in his vision for our country, thinks of the ’67 borders and a division of Jerusalem? He thinks of the ’67 borders, but he has already said ’67 plus. He’s the only president who has ever said that… The basis is with reference to the ’67 borders. His reference is ’67 plus. And that’s an amazing achievement for Israel.

The Palestinians know everything that you’ve just said. So from their point of view, perhaps it’s best to wait for the next president.
Maybe. But do they know who the next president is going to be? They don’t know either… The Palestinians may have expectations, but if it turns out that the next president is no less obligated than Bush to the State of Israel, then it might become clear to them that they’ve made a mistake in taking their time.
I don’t know how to make their considerations. I don’t want to make their considerations. My job is not to do the thinking for the Palestinians, my job is not to worry for the Palestinians. My job is to take care of Israel and the people of Israel, and that’s what I’m doing.
And I think that if there’s a chance to reach an agreement in the presidential term of George Bush, that’s preferable. It’s not merely Bush’s presidency. It’s a coincidence that is almost “the hand of God”: 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. What possible combination could be more comfortable for the State of Israel? So why would I gamble on what might be?

With Herb Keinon

© The Jerusalem Post