Olmert: Two-state Solution Is Crucial to Israel as a Jewish and Democratic State

Speaking at a New York conference, former prime minister draws boos after attacking Netanyahu's 'vague' position on the issue; Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz: On Iran, Netanyahu is the Churchill of our time.

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Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert criticized Benjamin Netanyahu’s “vague” position on the two-state solution on Sunday, and described the measure as crucial in maintaining Israel’s Jewish and democratic nature.

In a typically feisty appearance before at the Jerusalem Post conference in New York, Olmert also said that he disagreed with those who claimed that Iran had crossed the “red line” as defined by Netanyhau at the UN General Assembly. According to Olmert, Israel’s strategic situation today was better than it has been in many years, at least as far as a conventional threat from Arab countries is concerned.

As was the case in last year’s conference, Olmert clearly enjoyed the audience’s harsh reaction (including boos) to his statements on a two-state solution - in fact, he may have calculated that they will serve him well politically.

Also at the conference, Israel’s Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz said that Israel is not encouraging the U.S. to attack Syria and is not making “any linkage or comparison” between Syria and the Iranian nuclear challenge.

Steinitz was responding to concerns voiced in recent days in Washington and in Jerusalem that Israel would be perceived as pushing Israel to attack Syria.

Former Mossad Head Meir Dagan, speaking for the first time since his recent liver transplant in Belarus, said that the limited number of casualties from the recently uncovered use of chemical weapons in Syria leads him to conclude that the decision to deploy them was made by “local elements” and not by President Bashar Assad.

Dagan noted that Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries are “pressuring” the U.S. to confront Assad, but that “the U.S. sees the problem as it is.” He commended the American caution in deciding how to respond to the reports of chemical attacks.

Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren also reiterated that Israel “has made no recommendations” to the US regarding military action in Syria. He said that Israel had told Secretary of Defense Hagel that if the U.S. decides to arm rebels with lethal weapons, it should be very careful about the identity of the recipients.

On Iran – and contrary to his reticence on Syria – Steinitz openly called for “a credible military threat” against the Islamic Republic in order to deter Tehran from developing a nuclear bomb. Steinitz rebuffed criticism voiced by Olmert about the government’s “exaggeration” of the state of the Iranian nuclear program. “Netanyahu is the Churchill of our times regarding Iran,” Steinitz said, comparing the situation today to Europe in the late 1930s.

Former IDF Intelligence Chief Amos Yadlin said that Iran had enough enriched uranium for 6-7 bombs, and that it could manufacture the first bomb within 6-8 months of making a decision.

Ehud Olmert speaking at a conference in New York, April 29, 2012.Credit: Mark Israel Salem

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