In his first interview since his release from a prison term for accepting bribes and obstructing justice, former prime minister Ehud Olmert said powerful forces — including his successor Benjamin Netanyahu and billionaire casino mogul Sheldon Adelson — had worked to bring him down because he was close to making peace with the Palestinians.
Speaking to the Keshet channel in the interview broadcast Saturday night, Olmert, who served as prime minister from 2006 to 2009, also had advice for Netanyahu, who is deeply mired in his own corruption scandals, telling him he should quit right away. “I’d tell him, Bibi, resign, in an elegant way,” Olmert said. “Go, run, disappear!… And that is what will happen in the end.”
In a scene filmed standing outside the prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem, Olmert was asked what he regretted the most.
“The biggest loss for me is that we could have had peace for the last seven years, that I could have signed with the Palestinians,” he said. “I was the closest to achieving it,” he said of his talks with Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas.
It was this willingness to compromise, particularly on the issue of Jerusalem, where he offered the Palestinians East Jerusalem for a capital and a shared Temple Mount and Old City under international oversight, that angered his enemies, he said.
“Do we really need 300,000 Arabs in areas that were never part of Jerusalem? For this we are putting in jeopardy the fate of Jerusalem and our entire chance to achieve peace,” he said.
“I let myself go beyond the slogans, I dared to free myself and go where others would not, and for that I paid a terrible price,” Olmert said. “Like Yuval [son of Yitzhak] Rabin said: ‘Two prime ministers wanted to make peace and both of them were eliminated. One, my father, they shot, and the other one they eliminated in a different way,'” he said, referring to the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin by a ultra-nationalist Jew.
“There was an effort, people were behind it,” Olmert said of his own downfall.
When asked to name names, he singled out Netanyahu and Adelson, blaming them for the sudden spate of investigations opened against him in his first year as prime minister.
“There were several forces, first and foremost Benjamin Netanyahu,” he said, adding that Netanyahu resented him as the heir of Ariel Sharon, who soundly beat Netanyahu in the 2006 elections.
“It burned him and he looked for any way possible to bring me down, through collecting money, conscripting people, making promises of political advancement if they were successful in their efforts, that was one force,” he said.
“Another was Sheldon Adelson, who set up the Israel Hayom [newspaper] and has lost some billion shekels on it. He set it up to bring me down,” Olmert said.
The TV interview was not the first time Olmert has blamed Netanyahu.
In excerpts published earlier in the month from his forthcoming book, he said Netanyahu spread conspiracy theories about him and used the 2006 Lebanon War, over which Olmert presided, to bring down his government, organizing fake demonstrations against him by army reservists and “inciting and goading” bereaved parents to protest against him.
Olmert, who was released from prison last summer after serving 16 months for accepting bribes and obstructing justice, was asked by his TV interviewer what guidance he would give to Netanyahu, were the prime minister to seek his advice as he battles several graft investigations. Olmert said he would urge Netanyahu to quit.
“I’d tell him, Bibi, resign, in an elegant way,” Olmert said. Were Netanyahu to step down, said Olmert, “Maybe, maybe, there’s a chance that you’ll manage to preserve a minimum of honor for the good things you did. He did some good things too.
“Go, run, disappear!” Olmert went on, “So that we don’t see you, hear you, or those around you. That’s what I’d tell him. And that is what will happen in the end.”
Olmert refused to acknowledge a parallel between Netanyahu’s claims that he is being persecuted by the media, police, and state prosecution, and his own similar assertions. “I was hounded,” he insisted.
Olmert noted that all the cases against him applied to the period before he was prime minister, while all the allegations against Netanyahu, said Olmert, relate to his period as prime minister.
Asked if he had been guilty of the sin of pride, Olmert said, “Everybody’s sinned in that way. Me too.”
Asked flat out by his interviewer, “So, are you corrupt?” Olmert replied: “I am convinced that I am not. But I know there are a lot of people who say that I am. Yes, that’s what they say. That’s not who I am.”