While welcoming Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s recent comments regarding peace terms with Israel, former prime minister Ehud Olmert on Sunday lambasted his successor, claiming that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had “strengthened Hamas and weakened the Palestinian Authority led by Mahmoud Abbas” during his term in office.
“The interviews that the Palestinian president has given in the past few days should demonstrate to the Israeli public that there is somebody to talk to, and something to talk about, in order to resolve the bloody conflict… that has gone on for too long,” Olmert said.
However, according to the former prime minister, since the current government rose to power, “negotiations have been frozen [by Israel] in an attempt to prove… that there is no Palestinian partner.”
In an interview aired Friday night on Channel 2, Abbas said that even though he was born in Safed — a city in what is now northern Israel — he has the “right to see it, but not to live there.” On the surface, his comments indicate a moderated stance on the long-standing Palestinian demand for a “right of return” to Israel for millions of refugees and descendants of refugees.
Olmert was roundly criticized for his comments by members of the current government.
Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan said the former premier “has once again shown that there’s no limit to his chutzpah, and he continues to distort historical reality.” Erdan charged that it was in fact Olmert whose unilateral disengagement from Gaza had enabled Hamas to participate in the elections, and to take control of the Gaza Strip.
“It is ridiculous,” said Erdan, “that now [Olmert] is flinging accusations and relies on the public’s short memory.”
Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar also had harsh words for Olmert, calling the criticism of Netanyahu’s government “outrageous and very grave.” Sa’ar said that Olmert did not have “even one word of criticism for the Palestinian Authority, which, for close to four years, has deliberately avoided negotiations with the Israeli government.”
Olmert has been weighing a return to politics, but his ability to run for office was cast in doubt in October when the State Attorney’s Office informed Olmert’s lawyers that it would appeal the ruling in at least one, and possibly both, of the two substantive corruption cases in which the former prime minister was acquitted by the Jerusalem District Court in July.
While some, including President Shimon Peres, lauded Abbas’s remarks, ministers in Netanyahu’s government expressed skepticism over the genuineness of the Palestinian leader’s intentions.
Perhaps Abbas “prefers Ramallah… over Safed,” Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya’alon said on Sunday, citing a quote from Abbas’s interview, “but that does not mean that he doesn’t want the Palestinians to eventually come to Safed.”
Earlier Sunday, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman told Army Radio that Abbas’s statements were an attempt to “interfere with [Israeli] elections on behalf of the left.”
Netanyahu, similarly skeptical, said that if Abbas “really” wanted to progress toward peace, he would agree to resume talks. At Sunday’s weekly cabinet meeting, the prime minister called on the PA president “to return immediately to the negotiating table without preconditions.”
Ilan Ben Zion contributed to this report.