Olmert: Settlement Construction in Area E-1 Is 'Slap in the Face' of Obama

Former PM says Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is the best partner Israel has had for peace, yet failed to accept the 'most far-reaching and daring plan ever proposed.'

Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert criticized Saturday the decision to go forward with construction plans in Area E-1, which connects Jerusalem and Ma'aleh Adumim, describing it as a "slap in the face" of U.S. President Barack Obama.

Speaking at the Saban Forum 2012 at the Willard InterContinental in Washington D.C., Olmert said Israel must avoid taking measures that prevent a two-state solution, and that "declaring 3,000 building units is the worst slap in the face of a U.S. president" who supports the Jewish state.

On Friday, the forum of nine senior cabinet ministers approved initial retaliatory measures to the UN General Assembly's vote to upgrade Palestine's status to non-member observer state in the body. The forum, from which Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor were absent, decided to go forward with construction plans in Area E-1, which connects Ma'aleh Adumim to Jerusalem.

Four thousand new homes are planned for the new settlement, to be called Mevasseret Adumim. The project was halted early on in the design approval process a few years ago, despite pressure on Netanyahu from settlers. There is still a long way to go before the bulldozers move in, but the ministers' decision starts the ball rolling.

The forum also approved the immediate start of the construction to 3,000 homes in East Jerusalem and in settlement blocs in the West Bank, primarily in Ariel, Efrat and Ma'aleh Adumim. A senior Israeli foreign-policy figure said the construction will proceed in accordance with Israel's strategic interest.

Olmert said Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) was a genuine partner for peace unlike former Palestinian president Yasser Arafat. But despite praising Abbas as the "best partner we have had," Olmert said the Palestinians have "failed every opportunity" for reaching a peace agreement with Israel.

"I gave a map to Abu Mazen, and he said he needs to do fine tuning with map experts," recalled Olmert. "The fact is that the Palestinians rejected the most far-reaching and daring plan ever proposed to them. They should have answered right away, but he failed to do it. In a matter of three months we could have concluded the deal."

"The deal doesn't have to be perfect, but has to be signed by Palestinian representative elected in Democratic elections recognized by an international community," he said. "I don't need Abu Mazen or anyone else to recognize Israel as Jewish state - if it has defined borders it will automatically be a Jewish state and will be recognized by the whole world as such."

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert commented on things said by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel according to which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gambled on Mitt Romney in the United States general assembly and loss.

"I don’t think it has an effect on Israel's security because President Obama is a friend of Israel," Olmert said, adding "but I think that a mistake was made here – the intervention or the perception of an intervention – in American politics, and if Rahm Emanuel said what he said, this apparently reflects the feelings of many others, which doesn't help the warm relations between the two countries. It is none of our business who the next president of the United States should be. But Barack Obama is a friend of the State of Israel, and he won't let his private feelings interrupt his fundamental commitment to the security of Israel."

Despite criticizing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for giving the go-ahead to planning and construction in Area E-1, Olmert commended him on the recent eight-day Operation Pillar of Defense in the Gaza Strip. Olmert said that he "entirely supported" the prime minister's decision to assassinate Ahmed Jabari.
 

Reuters
Natasha Mozgovaya