Hours ahead of vote, former PM Olmert comes out in favor of Palestinian UN bid

Echoing PA’s position, Olmert says nonmember state status is congruent with two-state solution, will help move talks forward

Joshua Davidovich is The Times of Israel's Deputy Editor

Former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert (photo credit: Oren Nahshon/Flash90/File)
Former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert (photo credit: Oren Nahshon/Flash90/File)

Former prime minister Ehud Olmert has come out in favor of the Palestinian Authority’s bid for nonmember state status at the UN, bucking Jerusalem’s steadfast opposition to the move.

In a letter to Israeli-American writer Bernard Avishai published in The Daily Beast early Thursday, Olmert says the Palestinians’ request runs in line with the two-state solution concept and will help move talks along.

“The Palestinian request from the United Nations is congruent with  the basic concept of the two-state solution. Therefore, I see no reason to oppose it,” he wrote.

Ramallah has vowed to go ahead with the resolution on Thursday, despite heavy pressure from the US and Israel to drop the gambit.

The vote is expected to lean heavily in favor of the Palestinians, and may give them access to world bodies such as the International Monitary Fund and the International Criminal Court (ICC). A bid for full member status last year was scuttled by the Security Council.

Israel argues that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is trying to dictate the outcome of final-status peace talks by going to the UN, and fears the PA will try to leverage its access to the ICC to force Israel’s hand.

Olmert, however, echoed the Palestinian position that having the UN weigh in will help move talks forward.

“Once the United Nations will lay the foundation for this idea, we in Israel will have to engage in a serious process of negotiations, in order to agree on specific borders based on the 1967 lines, and resolve the other issues,” he wrote. “It is time to give a hand to, and encourage, the moderate forces amongst the Palestinians. [Abbas and Palestinian Prime Minister] Salam Fayyad need our help. It’s time to give it.”

According to Avishai, many other leaders and military officials are also in favor of the bid, if only to strengthen the moderate Abbas, who took a hit in popularity during Israel’s eight day mini-war with Hamas earlier this month.

Olmert, a former hard-line Likud member and mayor of Jerusalem, made a dramatic political shift as a Kadima founder and especially as prime minister from 2005 to 2009, when he offered to relinquish the entire West Bank with one-for-one land swaps to maintain major settlements, to divide Jerusalem into Israeli and Palestinian neighborhoods, and to relinquish sovereignty in the Old City in favor of an international trusteeship. He offered these terms to Abbas in 2008, and said Abbas failed to respond to them.

Olmert was forced to leave office soon after in the wake of corruption charges, most of which he was eventually cleared of, and high-level talks have not resumed under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Though Olmert is still embroiled in a real estate corruption case, and faces state appeals in the two major cases in which he was acquitted, he has been weighing returning to politics when Israelis go to the polls in January.

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