Mahmoud Abbas is the only person who can implement a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Friday after meeting the Palestinian president in Paris.
In an interview to Palestinian television, Olmert described Abbas as the most important individual in Israeli-Palestinian relations. He added that he was convinced he could have obtained a peace deal with the Palestinian Authority had he continued serving as prime minister for another three or four months.
"When [Abbas] doesn't say 'no' it means, as I understand it, that it is possible to obtain peace," Olmert said. "He did not oppose the proposal we offered when I was prime minister."
The former prime minister, who resigned in 2008 amid corruption allegations for which he was later convicted, said Abbas has proved his commitment to the peace process and to combating terrorism.
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"Everyone in the U.S. and in Europe, and certainly in Israel, understands that there is no substitute for the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict," he said, adding, "This solution can be implemented only through Abbas, who has proved in the past that he is committed to it and that he can lead the process."
A senior official in Israel's ruling Likud party sharply criticized Olmert's comments. "Olmert, who offered the Western Wall to [Abbas], is now also becoming his loyal spokesman," the official said. "In the U.S. and many Arab countries, they have already understood that [Abbas] is the real obstacle to peace and that the meaning of the extreme demands he makes is not peace but rather the destruction of the State of Israel."
Abbas's visit to Paris began with a meeting with French President Emmanual Macron as part of a bid to form an international front against the United States. After the meeting, Abbas denied U.S. claims that the Palestinians have refused to enter peace talks and asked Macron to convey this message to U.S. President Donald Trump.
U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton said earlier this month that the Palestinian de facto embassy in Washington was being shut because the PLO hadn’t taken steps toward negotiations.
Abbas said “we didn’t reject negotiations as the Israelis claim,” adding that the Palestinian side is “ready for any confidential or public talks.”
Abbas also said “the Europeans are working seriously to substitute and fill the American (funding) gap” after the Trump administration canceled over $200 million in aid for Palestinian projects.
The Palestinian president is set to travel to Ireland after his trip to France, and then onward to New York to attend the UN General Assembly, where he is expected to deliver a speech addressing the Trump administration's actions regarding the Palestinian Authority in recent months.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.