Former prime minister Ehud Olmert on Saturday night refused to say whether or not he would be running in the upcoming Israeli elections, but did say that he would be making an announcement in the coming week and that he would be very involved in the effort to oust Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government.
Olmert, in a conversation with Washington Post columnist David Ignatius at the Saban Forum in Washington, DC, repeatedly criticized Netanyahu for poor policies leading to the stagnation in the peace process and his ostensible show of support for Mitt Romney in the Republican candidate’s failed elections run against US President Barack Obama.
“I will be very active in the elections. I think the government in Israel has to be changed,” Olmert said, adding that he didn’t want to make an announcement away from Israeli soil. “What exactly will be my capacity in this effort is something that will be made clear very shortly.”
The deadline for parties to file in the coming election is Thursday. Olmert said he would make a statement to the Israeli public upon his return from Washington.
The former premier, who has been embroiled in several corruption trials — he was convicted on one count earlier this year, is on trial in a second, and the state has appealed two major acquittals — has nonetheless been mulling a political comeback ahead of the Knesset elections in January. Tzipi Livni, his former foreign minister, last week announced that she would be fielding her own Knesset slate, The Movement.
Olmert spent much of his Washington speech talking about the peace process and said the current Netanyahu government was “not dedicated to the process of peace in a realistic way that can bring peace.”
The former prime minister warned that time was running out for an Israeli-Palestinian deal. Olmert said that when Defense Minister Ehud Barak — then Israel’s prime minister — presented his terms for a Palestinian state to Yasser Arafat in 2000, Olmert didn’t like the price, but that with time he realized his mistake, as evidenced by the offer he presented to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas during his own term in office. In 2008, Olmert offered to relinquish the West Bank, with one-for-one land swaps, divided Jerusalem, and give up sovereignty in the Old City to an international trusteeship. He said Abbas did not respond to his offer.
Olmert also slammed Romney for visiting Israel to raise funds during last summer’s election campaign, calling it “inappropriate.”
The Saban Forum was founded by Israeli-American businessman Haim Saban in order to bolster the relationship between the US and the Jewish state.
On Friday, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman used the Saban Forum to lash out at Abbas and defend Israel’s announcement of 3,000 new housing units in Jerusalem and the West Bank.
“You cannot change international commitments,” said Liberman, referring to the Palestinians’ achievement of an upgraded status at the UN, to that of a nonmember observer state, less than 24 hours earlier. He said the PA’s UN bid was meant to serve as a diversion from its failed domestic policies — claiming that Hamas “is more effective, and has more political will and determination, than Abbas.”