Olmert: Graft Charges Disrupted Real Chance for Peace With Syria

Speaking during the second day of his corruption trial, former Prime Minister says Israel was 'on the verge' of peace with both Syria and the Palestinian Authority.

Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Thursday the various corruption investigations he had been subjected to had hurt a real chance for striking a peace deal between Israel and Syria.

Speaking during the second day of his corruption trial in Jerusalem, Olmert said that police began investigating charges made against him while Israel was on the verge of a Mideast peace breakthrough.

Ehud Olmert
Gili Cohen-Magen

"We were on the threshold of negotiations with Syria. Israel was in a different situation in talks with the Palestinians, on the verge of a real possibility of a breakthrough, with tough decisions to be make regarding the south," Olmert said.

"And all of that," the former PM said, "had to be led by someone living under the dark cloud of suspicions and recommendations [to indict]."

Olmert also spoke of the real steps already taken to jumpstart peace talks with Syria, just as he was being informed of investigations and corruption charges, saying: "We were a day before a press conference with the Turkish foreign minister, the Syrian foreign minister and myself."

"We estimated that if that would have taken place, peace negotiations would have been over with in a very short time. All the parameters were already known. I went. It was an extraordinary occasion. After dinner, the Turkish prime minister spoke with the Syrian president," Olmert told the court.

But, Olmert said, on the other side were his personal affairs, "dealing with accusations." Later, the former PM said that he understood he couldn't be prime minister any more.

"Because I know what we had lost. I know what we had lost. I know what was on the line. How close it was. On what threshold we were standing, one that could have changed life here. But I know that such decisions can't be made with a dark cloud over your life."

Olmert's comments came after earlier in his Thursday testimony the former premier recounted "one of the most dramatic" moments of his term in office.

"The head of the Mossad called me," he said. "I see him regularly, but it's a rare occasion when the head of the Mossad calls you and says, 'I have to see you.'" Olmert described receiving information that an Israeli prime minister "rarely gets… I knew that from that moment on nothing will be the same." During Olmert's term in 2007, international media reported that a nuclear reactor was bombed in Syria.

During the testimony Olmert also sharply criticizing State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss and the judicial system. He complained about the timing of his investigations while he was in office, and slammed the comptroller for making them publicly. Yet he stopped short of accusing the authorities of a conspiracy.

"I've been in office for close to 30 years," he said. "I don't remember a state comptroller announcing publicly about that he is launching an investigation about every little thing."