Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni distanced herself on Tuesday from comments by outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert calling for Israel to give up most of the Arab territories it has occupied since 1967, including east Jerusalem, if it wants peace.
In an interview with army radio, Livni, who will lead Olmert’s centrist Kadima party into a snap February election, said she was not bound by his policies.
"I am bound by the Kadima platform that I drafted and in which I laid down principles for negotiations with the Palestinians that the whole world can support," said Livni, who is Israel’s lead negotiator in the peace talks.
"It is possible to conduct the negotiations in my own way without having to arrive at the outcome raised by the outgoing prime minister," Livni said.
In a speech to parliament on Monday marking the anniversary of the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, Olmert said Israel needed to give up large tracts of land in the West Bank, including Arab east Jerusalem, and on the Golan Heights, in exchange for peace.
"This government, any government, owes it to tell the truth and that truth will force us to separate from many parts of the homeland in Judaea and Samaria (the West Bank), in Jerusalem and on the Golan Heights," Olmert said.
"There were times when we wanted to seal our presence on every inch of land — and I was one of those people — but we were wrong," he said to jeers from right-wing MPs.
Olmert had made similar comments at a memorial ceremony by Rabin’s graveside on Monday.
"If we are determined to preserve the Jewish and democratic character of the state of Israel, we must inevitably relinquish, with great pain, parts of our homeland, and we must relinquish Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem," he said.
The comments drew accusations from the right-wing opposition that the outgoing premier was abusing Rabin’s memory for political ends.
"Olmert’s speech was a disgraceful exploitation of the official occasion for a sermonizing political speech in the spirit of the radical left," charged MP Gidon Saar, whose Likud party is running neck-and-neck in the opinion polls with Kadima.
"Rabin is turning over in his grave after Olmert overtook him from the left," said Zvulun Orlev from the pro-Jewish settler National Religious Party.
Olmert, who has stepped down over corruption scandals but will remain at the head of a caretaker government until after the polls, drew sharp criticism from within his Kadima party after he made similar remarks last month.
"Mr Olmert’s remarks on the necessity of a territorial retreat from almost all the Palestinian territories go far beyond our positions of principle and are aligned with those of the extreme left," Tzahi Hanegbi, chairman of the parliamentary foreign affairs and defense committee, said at the time.
Olmert has said that failure to establish a Palestinian state could lead to pressure on Israel to agree to a binational state including the West Bank and Gaza Strip, in which a higher Arab birthrate would eventually ensure Jews became the minority.
Talks on Palestinian statehood resumed last November, but have been dogged by continued Jewish settlement expansion by Olmert’s government and differences over core issues, such as the future of Jerusalem.
The United States has said there is little chance of meeting its target of reaching at least a framework agreement by the end of the year.
(Agencies via Alarabiya.net)