Former prime minister Ehud Olmert took an unusually blatant and derisive potshot Monday at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, indicating that his successor was an idiot for not doing more to reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians when such a deal could be done right now.

Olmert also criticized Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman for opposing any deal that does not take into consideration the Yisrael Beytenu chairman’s controversial proposal to exchange major Arab population centers for settlements in the West Bank.

Speaking about “Media Challenges of Prime Ministers in Times of War and Terror” at a conference in Jerusalem’s Hebrew University, Olmert said it was nearly impossible for an Israeli prime minister to get positive headlines during wartime. On the other hand, any leader who signs peace agreements can be sure of positive press, he said.

“Even an idiot prime minister would be portrayed in a positive light [if he signed a peace deal]. But an idiot prime minister doesn’t make peace, and a prime minister who makes peace is no idiot,” Olmert said to raucous laughter in the room, as the capacity crowd in the hall understood his comment to be a snipe at Netanyahu. (He used the derisive Hebrew word tembel for idiot.) “And I’m really saying this in the most general terms,” Olmert continued, laughing, “and not at all personally.”

The former prime minister later said that he did not mean to wage a campaign against his successor, but added that peace was possible and that no stone should be left unturned in the attempt to reach an agreement.

“There is nothing more important, there’s nothing that will change our lives so substantially, nothing that could negatively impact our lives, more than the existence or absence of a peace agreement between us and Palestinians as soon as possible,” Olmert said. An agreement depends on both the Israeli and the Palestinian leaderships, he added, but if a deal is struck, “the benefit for the State of Israel will be greater than any other issue that we can achieve, and in all other areas combined, any time in the near future.”

In 2008, Olmert offered the Palestinians a state with a sovereign share of Jerusalem and 100 percent of the West Bank, with some one-for-one land swaps.

 

Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert, right, shakes hand with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, as Finnish president Tarja Halonen and Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak look on, prior to the Bastille Day parade in Paris Monday July 14, 2008. Standing at right is Syrian President Bashar Assad. Leaders from Europe, the Middle East and North Africa and the head of the United Nations gathered in Paris for France's Bastille Day military parade, one day after their Mediterranean Summit in the city. (photo credit: AP Photo/Remy de la Mauviniere)

Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert, right, shakes hand with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, as Finnish president Tarja Halonen and Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak look on, prior to the Bastille Day parade in Paris Monday July 14, 2008. Standing at right is Syrian President Bashar Assad. Leaders from Europe, the Middle East and North Africa and the head of the United Nations gathered in Paris for France’s Bastille Day military parade, one day after their Mediterranean Summit in the city. (photo credit: AP Photo/Remy de la Mauviniere)

He also negotiated for a peace agreement with Syrian President Bashar Assad. “He understands today that he missed the opportunity of his life, when he didn’t jump at the opportunity that I had presented him. And I presented him an exceptional opportunity,” Olmert said of Assad on Monday. “He made a dramatic mistake, because he might have spared himself the entire rebellion and everything that has happened in Syria since then.”

Olmert declined to comment on the current negotiations led by US Secretary of State John Kerry. He merely said that it was “possible to reach peace now, a peace that will secure Israeli’s security, its Jewishness, its Zionism, the security of its residents, its democratic nature, and also establish a Palestinian state that will be the national homeland of the Palestinian people. It’s possible to do that. You just need to reach decisions — that’s the task of leaders.”

He also condemned the speech delivered by the foreign minister Sunday, during which Liberman vowed to veto any peace agreement with the Palestinians that lacked the exchange of the “triangle” area southeast of Haifa and Wadi Ara — both areas mostly populated by Israeli Arabs — for West Bank areas populated primarily by Jews, commonly known as “settlement blocs.”

“Mr. Liberman understands well that there is no chance to ever make peace on the basis of his positions, to exclude the ‘triangle’ and Wadi Ara from the boundaries of the State of Israel,” Olmert said. “I believe the vast majority of Israel’s non-Jewish citizens — mostly Muslim Arabs — are loyal citizens and we need to approach them with understanding, responsibility and full equality.”

Last month, Olmert made headlines when he launched an acerbic attack on Netanyahu, for his “utterly misguided” policy of publicly confronting the United States over its Iran policy. Olmert said the current prime minister was causing an unprecedented and acutely dangerous rift in bilateral diplomatic relations by “going into battle against our best ally and whipping up Congress” against the US administration.