ANALYSIS / No Leader Before Olmert Has Explicitly Called for Return to '67 Borders

PM's criticism of settlers' violence and his warning of the next political murder were sharper than ever.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert chose to strike on the most sensitive day of Israel's calendar, Yitzhak Rabin Memorial day. He did so both in the Knesset and on Mount Herzl, in order to lay out his vision - Israel must pull out of all the territories quickly, before it loses international support for a two-state solution.

No Israeli leader before him has called explicitly for withdrawing from the territories and "returning to the area that was Israel until 1967." Olmert's criticism of the settlers' violence against the Palestinian olive pickers and his warning of the next political murder were also sharper than ever.

Olmert countered the argument that he was exploiting a national memorial to present a controversial political position. This was not a private memorial service for Rabin the man, he said, but an event symbolizing the way of a prime minister who was murdered for political motives, and as such, it must not be cut off from its political context.

Olmert could have uttered the customary denunciations of the heinous murderer, but he wanted to convey a message, just before leaving office.

Olmert's aides say his speeches reflect his return to the state's leadership. Two important state events will take place on his watch - January 9, the day when Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas' term ends, and January 20, the day the American administration changes. Until then Olmert wants to advance the peace negotiations with the Palestinians and the Syrians. He will try to meet Abbas in the next few days, and to hold a fifth round of talks with the Syrians in an attempt to establish direct talks with them.

Olmert began calling to withdraw from the territories before he became prime minister. But now, in election season, his statements bear greater political weight. On the face of it, Olmert criticized the two candidates to replace him. Neither Tzipi Livni, who prides herself on putting the talks with the Palestinians off to next year and is vague on borders and Jerusalem, nor Benjamin Netanyahu, who objects to the partition idea and to pulling out of the territories, dare tell the public the truth.

But Olmert's positions embarrass Livni, not Netanyahu. Olmert, who was elected prime minister for Kadima, is talking like Meretz. His statements make it easier for the Likud to describe Kadima a delusional left-wing party and undermine Livni's argument that she is heading a centrist party.

Ultimately, Olmert should have blasted himself. He will soon complete three years as prime minster and the two-state solution he is preaching seems farther away than ever. Abbas rejected his proposed agreement. The violent settlers are on the verge of rebellion and the illegal outposts are standing fast. Olmert wasted his political credit on the Lebanon war and on his own survival. Only after he resigned did he allow himself to speak freely.