Israel must accept that the world powers’ agreement with Iran on its nuclear program is a “done deal,” and make every effort to avoid fights with the United States, the disgraced former prime minister Ehud Olmert told Al Jazeera in an interview published Friday.
“I’m unhappy with certain parts of the [Iran] deal,” Olmert, who is set to be jailed later this year on corruption convictions pending appeal, told “UpFront,” the Qatari network’s current affairs program. “This is not an ideal deal, but the question is not whether I like it or not. There is a deal. It’s a done deal. It’s been approved. It’s been accepted.”
Calling the US “the best friend that Israel has in the world,” Olmert criticized his successor Benjamin Netanyahu’s well-publicized disagreements with US President Barack Obama, saying that Israelis could “absolutely” trust Obama when it came to both the threat posed by Iran and regarding Israel’s security. The president, he said, is “a great friend of the State of Israel.”
“President Obama is a man of integrity and we have to sit with him quietly, not in front of the TV cameras,” Olmert added.
He also contradicted Netanyahu’s recent claims that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was not interested in making peace. In his address Thursday at the United Nations General Assembly, Netanyahu accused the PA leader of rejecting his overtures to return to the negotiating table. On Wednesday, Abbas told the UN he was no longer bound by the Oslo accords and other agreements with Israel.
“I am prepared to immediately, immediately, resume direct peace negotiations with the Palestinian Authority without any preconditions whatsoever,” Netanyahu said in his UN address. “Unfortunately, President Abbas said yesterday that he is not prepared to do this… How can Israel make peace with a Palestinian partner who refuses to even sit at the negotiating table?”
But Olmert, who held talks with Abbas during his three-year tenure as PM, said he “found him to be a genuine and serious and trustworthy partner for the peace negotiations that we conducted.”
Abbas “certainly is a partner for peace. There is no other,” Olmert said. “He is the president of the Palestinian Authority and he, time and again, proved that he’s against terror and that he is ready to spell it out in the strongest possible terms.”
Olmert sought to close a permanent accord with Abbas in 2008, offering to relinquish sovereignty in Jerusalem’s Old City to international trusteeship, to divide Jerusalem into Israeli and Palestinian neighborhoods, and to withdraw from the West Bank with land swaps. Abbas did not respond to his offer.
Harking back to his 2007 warning that Israel would face a “South Africa-style struggle for equal voting rights” and be “finished” if the “two-state solution collapses,” the former prime minister said that he was still concerned by this possibility.
“I still make this warning,” he said. “I think that this warning is a serious one and we have to address ourselves to this in a very serious [way] and to expedite the [peace] process.”
Olmert called Netanyahu’s UN speech Thursday a “great performance,” but said that both he and the Palestinians had to demonstrate “greater flexibility” when it came to negotiations.
And while Netanyahu has repeatedly expressed his support for a two-state solution, Olmert appeared less than convinced. “I want to believe that what he said is genuine,” he stated. “What’s hidden in his heart, I don’t know.”
Olmert, who took over as prime minister following Ariel Sharon’s incapacitating stroke in 2006, stepped down in 2009 over corruption allegations that dogged his premiership. He was eventually found guilty in two cases, and is slated to serve nearly seven years in the prison for the separate bribery and fraud convictions — the first Israeli premier to be sentenced to time behind bars. Olmert faces a final Supreme Court appeal on parts of his sentences in October. Barring any dramatic reversal in his case, he will begin serving his sentences by year’s end.