Former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert met Friday evening with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Paris, saying the PA leader was the only one who could help reach a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“He is the man. He can do it. He wants to do it,” Olmert said alongside Abbas in filmed remarks to Palestinian television.
“He fights against terror because this is part of his commitment to achieve peace between us and them,” Olmert added.
The former Israeli leader, who was released from prison in July 2017 after serving 16 months behind bars for bribery, said there is no alternative to a two-state solution and stressed he believes achieving such an outcome is still possible.
He also called Abbas “a great political leader and the most relevant person for the future developments in the relations between Israel and Palestinians.”
Olmert said he considered the PA chief a “friend” and insisted that had his term not been shortened by the criminal charges against him — charges which he continues to deny he was guilty of — peace would have been achieved long ago.
“I liked him when we were working together as a person, as a human being,” Olmert said of Abbas. “I admired his dedication and his commitment to achieve peace. I share the same belief that peace is achievable.”
“I am sure that as President Abbas said, had I been able to continue my tenure in office for three [to] four more months, then there would have been peace for years now between Israel and the Palestinians.”
Olmert also insisted that Abbas did not reject his proposals for peace during 2008 talks — though the PA leader has himself acknowledged doing so, at least tentatively. But the former premier explained that Abbas “doesn’t reject continuing within that framework which we discussed at the time.”
Abbas has said he rejected an offer in 2008 because he was not allowed to study a map of Olmert’s proposed territorial solution. He’s also said negotiations continued, but eventually broke down due to Olmert’s legal woes.
Abbas was in France after meeting earlier in the day with French President Emmanuel Macron. After the meeting Abbas said France was increasingly studying the possibility of recognizing a Palestinian state.
“The French certainly care a lot about that issue,” Abbas told reporters, referring to the possibility. “They are studying it more and more.”
More than 130 countries have recognized a Palestinian state, but some of the international community’s most influential members, including France, the US and the UK, have not made such a move.
At a press conference at the European Union headquarters in January, the PA president called on European Union member countries to recognize “the State of Palestine,” contending such a step would encourage Palestinians to maintain hope for peace.
Israel has long held that recognizing a Palestinian state will harden the Palestinians’ negotiating positions, making it more difficult to reach a final peace agreement.
Abbas added that the Palestinians are prepared to participate in any “secret” or “publicly known” peace negotiations on the condition that the Middle East Quartet and “other states” mediate them.
The Quartet compromises the US, Russia, EU and United Nations.
The PA president explained that in addition to the Quartet, the Palestinians would “welcome any European or Arab state” to mediate talks between them and the Israelis.
Since US President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and initiated the relocation of the US Embassy in the Jewish state to the city, Abbas has said on multiple occasions the Palestinians will no longer cooperate with a US-dominated peace process.
Israel has said that it will only work with a US-led peace process.
Following his visit to Paris, Abbas is expected to travel to Ireland and then to the annual United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York City, where he is scheduled to deliver a speech on September 27.
Adam Rasgon contributed to this report.