Olmert Urges PM to Accept Washington's Offer for West Bank Construction Freeze

Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert took a rare public jab at his successor yesterday, saying that Israel should agree to the U.S. demand to halt settlement construction in the West Bank in order to restart Mideast peace talks.

Olmert suggested Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama were wasting valuable time by focusing on such a "marginal" issue, rather than tackling the essential issues at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Olmert said both Israel and the U.S. should instead focus on reaching a final peace deal with the Palestinians.

Netanyahu has yet to commit to a three-month renewal of the settlement freeze, saying he is waiting for written U.S. assurances on a package of security arrangements.

Speaking to foreign correspondents, Olmert said he wouldn't have agreed to a settlement freeze in the first place, saying it was more important to focus on larger issues like final borders, the fate of Palestinian refugees and the status of Jerusalem. But he said he would not turn down a request from Israel's closest ally and endanger ties.

"If someone says that he agrees to 10 months of freezing and the president of the mightiest nation on earth and friendliest nation to Israel comes to you and says 'please give me two [more] months, only two months,' I mean what could happen in two months?" he said.