Monday, September 29, 2008

Olmert Advocates Withdrawal From West Bank, Reappraises Other Israeli Policies

Outgoing Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert spoke more frankly than ever about needed changes in his country's policies, as reported in a New York Times article "Olmert Says Israel Should Pull Out Of The West Bank" (9/29/08). Excerpts follow:

West Bank: “We face the need to decide but are not willing to tell ourselves, yes, this is what we have to do. We have to reach an agreement with the Palestinians, the meaning of which is that in practice we will withdraw from almost all the territories, if not all the territories. 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.”

Jerusalem: “I am the first who wanted to enforce Israeli sovereignty on the entire city. I admit it. I am not trying to justify retroactively what I did for 35 years. For a large portion of these years, I was unwilling to look at reality in all its depth.” He said that maintaining sovereignty over an undivided Jerusalem, Israel’s official policy, would involve bringing 270,000 Palestinians inside Israel’s security barrier. It would mean a continuing risk of terrorist attacks against civilians like those carried out this year by Jerusalem Palestinian residents with front-end loaders.

Military strategy: “With [traditional Israeli defense strategists], it is all about tanks and land and controlling territories and controlled territories and this hilltop and that hilltop. All these things are worthless. Who thinks seriously that if we sit on another hilltop, on another hundred meters, that this is what will make the difference for the State of Israel’s basic security?”

Iran: He...dismissed as “megalomania” any thought that Israel would or should attack Iran on its own to stop it from developing nuclear weapons, saying the international community and not Israel alone was charged with handling the issue. ...Israel would act within the international system, adding: “Part of our megalomania and our loss of proportions is the things that are said here about Iran. We are a country that has lost a sense of proportion about itself.”

Syria: Israel had to be prepared to give up the Golan Heights but...in turn Damascus knew it had to change the nature of its relationship with Iran and its support for Hezbollah, the Lebanese militia.

Olmert acknowledged the groundbreaking nature of his comments: “What I am saying to you now has not been said by any Israeli leader before me. The time has come to say these things.”

Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year, is a time of renewal. Olmert's comments are a renewal of sorts: a reappraisal of traditional Israeli policies, coming from a politician who once leaned to to the right. It is to be hoped that the next Israeli Prime Minister shares Olmert's realistic perspectives.

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