Monday, November 24, 2008

'The Time Has Come to Say These Things'

I've written before about Olmert's change of heart now that he is no longer the Israeli Prime Minister, but he has gone even further in his latest interview with the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper.

Ehud Olmert: At the moment, I'd like to do some soul-searching on behalf of the nation of Israel.... In a few years, my grandchildren will ask what their grandfather did, what kind of country we have bequeathed them. I said it five years ago, in an interview with Yedioth Ahronoth, and I'll say it to you today: we have a window of opportunity—a short amount of time before we enter an extremely dangerous situation—in which to take a historic step in our relations with the Palestinians and a historic step in our relations with the Syrians. In both instances, the decision we have to make is the decision we've spent forty years refusing to look at with our eyes open.

We must make these decisions, and yet we are not prepared to say to ourselves, "Yes, this is what we must do." We must reach an agreement with the Palestinians, meaning a withdrawal from nearly all, if not all, of the [occupied] territories. Some percentage of these territories would remain in our hands, but we must give the Palestinians the same percentage [of territory elsewhere]—without this, there will be no peace.

Yedioth Ahronoth: Including Jerusalem?

Ehud Olmert: Including Jerusalem—with, I'd imagine, special arrangements made for the Temple Mount and the holy/historical sites.
Both of Israel's last two Prime Ministers, Ariel Sharon and now Olmert, have come to the conclusion that settlement building is hindering Israel's search for peace and that an agreement must be reached with the Palestinians.

Sharon called for withdrawal from "some occupied Palestinian land, whilst cementing Israel's hold on East Jerusalem and major settlement blocs" which, considering the fact that he was the father of the settlement movement and, especially in the light of the fact that George Bush - in an act of stunning illegality and stupidity in equal measure - had just told Sharon that Israel was free to keep many of it's West Bank settlements, was an act of withdrawal by Sharon.

Now Olmert is taking what Sharon said even further and saying that the only solution to the problem is Israel adhering to UN res 242.

And he is, at last, saying that East Jerusalem must be the Palestinian capital.
Ehud Olmert: Whoever talks seriously about security in Jerusalem, and about not wanting tractors and bulldozers to crush the legs of his best friends—as happened to a close friend of mine, who lost a leg when a terrorist ran him over on a tractor—must be willing to relinquish parts of Jerusalem. [In July 2008, Jerusalem saw two separate attacks involving construction vehicles operated by Arab East Jerusalemites.]

Whoever wants to maintain control over the entire city will have to absorb 270,000 Arabs into the borders of Israel proper. This won't do. We need to make a decision. This decision is difficult, awful, a decision that contradicts our natural instincts, our deepest yearnings, our collective memories, and the prayers of the nation of Israel for the past two thousand years.

I was the first person who wanted to maintain Israeli control over the entire city. I confess. I'm not trying to retroactively justify what I've done for the past thirty-five years. For a significant portion of those years I wasn't ready to contemplate the depth of this reality.

Yedioth Ahronoth: If you could continue your administration, do you think that you would be able to reach agreements?

Ehud Olmert: I think we're very close to reaching agreements.

Yedioth Ahronoth: With both the Palestinians and the Syrians?

Ehud Olmert: Yes, also with the Syrians.
A deal has always been impossible until the Israelis gave up their claims to East Jerusalem and the parts of the West Bank that they had built illegal settlements upon. George W. Bush spoke of "new realities on the ground" which merely emphasised his profound ignorance on the subject and his jaw dropping arrogance in presuming that the Palestinians would accept this profound injustice simply because he, as president, had stated that it should be so.

There can be no peace, in a dispute that has gone on forty years, without justice. Bush's proposal, that the Israelis could keep large tracts of stolen Arab land, was profoundly unjust and had no chance of working.

And, as Olmert now points out, Israel could defeat all of her enemies militarily, but she will never know peace until she gives back the land that is not hers:

Were a regional war to break out in the next year or two and were we to enter into a military confrontation with Syria, I have no doubt that we'd defeat them soundly. We are stronger than they. Israel is the strongest country in the Middle East. We could contend with any of our enemies or against all of our enemies combined and win. The question that I ask myself is, what happens when we win? First of all, we'd have to pay a painful price.

And after we paid the price, what would we say to them? "Let's talk." And what would the Syrians say to us? "Let's talk about the Golan Heights."

So, I ask: Why enter a war with the Syrians, full of losses and destruction, in order to achieve what might be achieved without paying such a heavy price?

And Olmert now states what man of us have been calling for; that Israel - at sixty years old - should finally announce and live within her own borders:
Our goal should be, for the first time, to designate a final and exact borderline between us and the Palestinians so that the entire world, the United States, the UN, and Europe can say, "These are the borders of the State of Israel, we recognize them, and we will anchor them with formal resolutions in the major international bodies. These are the recognized borders of Israel and these are the recognized borders of the State of Palestine."
Barack Obama has made no secret of the fact that he intends to make the Israel/Palestine dispute a priority from the minute he takes office and that he does not accept the Likud line in this dispute.

Olmert's words will greatly aid Obama as for the first time ever an Israeli Prime Minister is saying what the rest of the world knows: Israel must establish her own borders and recognise a viable Palestinian state.

Such common sense will be met with fierce resistance from the Israeli hardliners, but with both Sharon and Olmert recognising the futility of Israel attempting to hold on to the territories, the hardliners should be ignored and much more attention should be paid to the majority of both Israelis and Palestinians who have made it perfectly clear that they want peace.

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