Olmert hails Arab peace proposal as ‘historic opportunity’

Syrian chemical weapons could already be in the hands of Hezbollah, former prime minister warns

Gavriel Fiske is a reporter at The Times of Israel

The decision by the Arab League to approve minor land swaps between Israel and the Palestinians as part of a potential peace deal, announced Monday, is a historic opportunity that destroys the Israeli view that “there is no one to talk to” on the other side, former prime minister Ehud Olmert said on Wednesday.

“We can’t miss this opportunity to return to negotiations,” Olmert said, during a wide-ranging interview on Channel 10’s evening news. “The taboo, that there isn’t anyone to talk to, has been broken,” he added.

Flexibility on final borders between Israel and Palestine, instead of a strict demand for a return to the pre-1967 lines, as in the original Arab peace initiative of 2002, has long been desired by Israeli and Western leaders.

Olmert said that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has enough political clout to “lead the state in the direction of negotiations and peace. It’s an historical opportunity for the prime minister.”

Netanyahu himself said Wednesday that he is “eager” to sign a peace deal, but noted that any agreement would need to ensure Israeli security and that the Palestinians recognize the Jewish state.

When asked about the situation in Syria, Olmert said that Israel can’t rule out the possibility that Syrian chemical weapons could already be in the hands of Hezbollah, and should be ready with a “precise, exact action” to deal with the threat.

It was not the case that, if the Assad government falls, Israel will be in the sights of the successor government, Olmert said, adding that direct intervention in the Syrian civil war is not desirable, but Israel should do what it can to “calm the situation.”

Iran hasn’t yet passed the nuclear “red line” and Israel’s assessment of the nuclear threat from Iran has been a “big exaggeration,” Olmert said, going on to praise Israel’s “wonderful” cooperation with the West in introducing economic sanctions against the Islamic Republic.

Asked point blank if he truly intends to run again for prime minister, as reported last week in Haaretz, Olmert said “I don’t read Haaretz.”

“I haven’t left public life,” he said after further prompting. “And you will continue to hear about me and from me, I promise… Of course, if the day will come when I need to make a more explicit statement, I will.”

Olmert resigned as prime minister in 2008 over multiple charges of corruption. He was sentenced in September 2012 to a suspended yearlong jail term and a NIS 75,000 fine (some $19,000), following his landmark conviction for a relatively minor breach-of-trust charge, but was cleared in the two major cases against him, leaving him technically free to return to political life.

He still is due to give testimony in an ongoing trial in the Holyland corruption case against him.

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