Olmert implies decision to build homes in E1 area is intended to torpedo peace negotiations

Netanyahu gov’t move to expand construction between Jerusalem and Maaleh Adumim is ‘the one thing which was certain to offend the US,’ former PM says at New York event

Haviv Rettig Gur is The Times of Israel's senior analyst.

Ehud Olmert (photo credit: Yossi Zamir/Flash90)
Ehud Olmert (photo credit: Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

NEW YORK — The decision to approve the construction of 3,000 homes in the E1 area between Jerusalem and Maaleh Adumim may be targeted to prevent negotiations with the Palestinians, former prime minister Ehud Olmert suggested on Monday night.

Speaking in New York before an audience of the left-leaning Israel Policy Forum, Olmert said his own government, which held power from 2006 to 2009, built in areas “in the territories which were known to us and the American government, and unofficially also to the Palestinians, that at the end of the day they would remain under Israeli sovereignty as part of the agreement of the two sides.”

But “there was one request by the American government — and there was no question president [George] Bush and [secretary of state] Condoleezza Rice were friends of Israel — they asked me, ‘Please don’t build in E1, because if you do, it will be beyond the capacity of the Palestinian leadership to sit with you.'”

Olmert said he told the American administration that “one day Maaleh Adumim will be part of Israel because we will not leave them as an enclave.” But, he added, his government agreed not to build in the area in order to enable negotiations with the Palestinian Authority to take place.

E1, Olmert suggested, was a point of particular concern for the American administration.

“So [for the Netanyahu government] to build in this one piece of land,” he said, “requires creativity which is beyond my comprehension.”

Olmert spoke at an Israel Policy Forum event at Manhattan’s Carlyle Hotel held to recognize outgoing Democratic Representative Gary Ackerman, who is resigning from the House after 30 consecutive years as the Congressional representative from Queens.

In his remarks, Olmert praised the Obama administration for its support for Israel during last week’s UN vote recognizing Palestine as a nonmember observer state, though he said he supported the Palestinian Authority-backed resolution because it advanced the notion of two states for two peoples rather than a “one state solution.”

“At the same time I admired the fact that [a US administration] that until recently was not considered to be such a great friend of Israel by this [Israeli] government agreed to isolate itself only in order not to leave Israel entirely alone. I thought the American president deserved some thanks from the Israeli people and the Israeli government.”

Instead, “the next morning, the Israeli government decided to do the one thing which was certain to offend the government of the United States.”

Olmert also called on Israel to work with the United States and Europe to end the threat of a nuclear weapons-armed Iran, accusing Netanyahu of using the Iranian issue as an excuse to avoid dealing with the Palestinians.

“It is true that Israel will not be able to tolerate a nuclear Iran and I am sure that America understands it,” Olmert said. “And I’m sure that when the time will come, according to the judgment of the international community led by the United States, and Europe, and the state of Israel, everything that needs to be done, will be done — in a decisive way.”

Speculation has mounted in recent weeks about Olmert’s possible return to politics. He has endorsed the Kadima party and said at the Saban Forum in Washington over the weekend that “I will be very active in the elections. I think the government in Israel has to be changed.”

Olmert is expected to deliver a speech in Israel on Tuesday which will outline his political future.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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