Olmert: Centrist, Left-wing Parties Could Keep Netanyahu Out of Next Israeli Cabinet

Speaking to Haaretz in Washington, former Prime Minister says Israelis aren't as right-wing as their leadership, adding that the Israeli public would support a peace deal similar to his 2008 proposal.

Israeli left-wing and centrist parties could garner enough votes in the next elections to block Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from assembling another government, former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said on Tuesday, adding that he thought the Israeli public wasn't as right-wing as its current leadership.

Olmert's remarks came as earlier Tuesday around 200 polling stations opened across the country and 95,000 party members went to choose Kadima's leader for the next national elections.

Olmert - 2.6.11
Kobi Gideon

The primaries pit Olmert's successor and party's chairperson for the past three and a half years, Tzipi Livni, against MK Shaul Mofaz, and the contest could be decided by a razor-thin margin.

Speaking to Haaretz at the Brookings Institution in Washington on Tuesday, Olmert said that there was "a very good chance that in the next elections, there will be enough of a bloc to prevent Bibi [Netanyahu] from forming the new government."

"With the participation of Yair Lapid, potential participation of Aryeh Deri, Kadima is stronger than it seems, and together with Meretz, Labor and ten or eleven votes from Arab parties, there is strong chance for change," he added.

Referring to the possible outcome of Tuesday's Kadima primary, Olmert said he wasn't "so certain about the outcome, I suggest that we be patient, but there will be dramatic changes in Israeli politics. There is a good chance that the current situation will not remain intact."

Earlier in the day, while speaking to reporters, the former PM also spoke of the prospects of striking a peace deal with the Palestinians, saying that the "Israeli public would support the same agreement today had it been presented as an agreement. The Israeli public opinion hasn't shifted to the right - the government shifted to the right."

The former prime minister was referring to the 2008 peace proposal, presented to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Olmert wanted to annex 6.3 percent of the West Bank to Israel, areas that are home to 75 percent of the Jewish population of the territories.

"Abu Mazen [Abbas] didn't reject the plan - he never said yes, but he never said no. He could have said no. The Palestinians never had a problem saying no before. They never said no to me,” explained Olmert.

The former premier also came out in support of U.S. President Barack Obama’s relationship with Israel. "Obama has manifested his friendship to the state of Israel. We have to thank the president for manifesting his friendship to Israel.

However Olmert noted: “On the other hand those in America had to rid themselves from the childish notion that the Israeli government tries to manipulate political situation in America."