Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert launched a scathing attack on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday, accusing him of harming Israel's interests and strengthening Hamas.
Olmert's statements come following Netanyahu's criticism of the interview Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas gave Israel's Channel 2, in which the PA leader said he views Palestine as the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as the capital. Netanyahu rejected Abbas' statements, saying his words do not match his actions.
On Sunday, Olmert condemned Netanyahu's handling of relations with the Palestinians.
Olmert said that Netanyahu is responsible for the stalled negotiations with the Palestinians and accused the prime minister of "trying to prove to the Israeli public that there is no partner on the Palestinian side."
Netanyahu's policies are "reckless and damage Israel's most vital interests," Olmert said.
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In the interview, aired over the weekend, Abbas said he would not allow a third Palestinian Intifada as long as he was in power. He added that as a Palestinian refugee from Safed, he wants to return there, but only as a tourist, since Safed is part of Israel.
"The West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem are Palestine, all the rest is Israel – now and forever," Abbas said in the interview.
Olmert is currently weighing the possibility of returning to politics, and is considering a bid to head a new party that would include Tzipi Livni and other political groups and individuals. Olmert is expected to reach a decision by the end of this week. Sources close to the former prime minister say that many press outlets approached Olmert and asked for his response to Abbas' words, and he therefore decided to publish an official response.
"Unfortunately, since the new government took office, the negotiations with the Palestinians have been frozen, and there was an effort to prove to the Israeli public that there is no partner on the Palestinian side," Olmert stressed.
"Instead of promoting the negotiations, the Israeli government took steps that strengthen Hamas and weaken the Palestinian Authority headed by Mahmoud Abbas – an authority that believes in non-violence and peace."
Olmert added that the interviews granted by Abbas in recent days are enough to "prove to the Israeli public that there is a partner for talks."
"There is room for negotiations that could solve the bloody conflict between the two peoples, which has lasted much too long," Olmert said.
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Olmert took special notice of Abbas' words about the issue of the refugees, and confirmed that he heard similar statements throughout the negotiations the two leaders held in 2008, following the Annapolis Conference. Olmert added that Netanyahu is fully aware of Abbas' position on this issue, since he and his advisers passed this information personally to Netanyahu.
"During the negotiations we agreed that the issue of the refugees would be solved in the framework of the Arab Peace Initiative, and that the Palestinians have no intention of acting to change the character of the state of Israel, through the return of refugees realizing the right of return," Olmert wrote.
"To remove all doubts, we discussed, but didn't conclude, the idea of an examination on humanitarian grounds that would include several thousands of refugees – if they demand to return to Israel – and that, too, only for a limited time period. These details were also made known to the U.S. administration, headed by President [George] Bush and Secretary of State [Condoleezza] Rice, who were routinely briefed on the developments."
Olmert proposed at the time that Israel would pull back from 93.5 percent of the West Bank and compensate the Palestinians with land equal to 5.5 percent as part of a land swap. Olmert further offered to symbolically absorb in Israel some 5,000 refugees on humanitarian grounds as part of family reunifications, for a period of five years. Olmert offered Abbas control over the Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem and that the Holy Basin– the Old City – would be run by an international committee including the U.S., Saudi Arabia and Jordan.
Abbas did not give a positive reply to Olmert's offers, responding with a long list of questions, and the sides never concluded the issues. In June 2009, after the Israeli elections, Abbas told the Washington Post that he didn't sign a peace treaty with Olmert because the gaps were too wide. Several weeks ago he changed his version of events and in a meeting with a delegation of the Geneva Accord, he said he reached understandings with Olmert. Abbas said that the two men could have reached an agreement within two months, but Olmert was forced to leave office due to the criminal investigations against him.
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