Israel’s interim Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Israel must give up virtually all the occupied West Bank including east Jerusalem, insisting in an interview published on Monday this was key to achieving peace with the Palestinians.
Olmert, in a caretaker role since quitting on Sept. 21, said he was breaking new ground in calling for a broad pullback from the occupied West Bank, where Palestinians hope to establish a state, and in the annexed Golan Heights, which Syria wants back.
"(I am saying) what no previous Israeli leader has ever said: we should withdraw from almost all of the territories, including in East Jerusalem and in the Golan Heights," Olmert, who resigned over corruption allegations, told Yedioth Ahronoth.
"We will leave a percentage of these territories in our hands, but will have to give the Palestinians a similar percentage, because without that there will be no peace," he said.
"Including in Jerusalem," he said in reference to the predominantly Arab eastern part of the Holy City which Israel occupied and annexed after the 1967 war and which Palestinians want as the capital of their future state.
The Israeli daily called it a "legacy interview", published on the eve of the Jewish new year, in which Olmert went further in making offers for peace than he ever did publicly when he was in active office, with greater power to see them carried out.
The statement is expected to stir deep controversy. Israel officially considers Jerusalem its "eternal, undivided" capital, a view Olmert — a former mayor of the city — said he shared for many years.
Palestinian chief negotiator Ahmed Qurie said, before the Olmert interview, annexation of settlement blocs would prevent the Palestinians from establishing a viable and contiguous country.
"We can’t have a state with settlements dividing the land," Qurie said.
Another senior Palestinian negotiator said tracts Olmert proposed to exchange in a peace deal "are lands we don’t want".
Olmert has also engaged Syria in indirect negotiations with Turkish mediation.
"I’d like 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," Olmert said in the newspaper interview.
He has so far put off talks 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 could face criminal indictment in a corruption investigation, will remain prime minister until a new government is approved by parliament.
A week ago, Israel’s president 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.
(Agencies via Alarabiya.net)