Calls leadership's talk of months more fighting 'unfounded'

Olmert: World will halt war soon if Israel doesn’t offer viable vision for Gaza

Ex-PM says Israel won’t be given time it needs to destroy Hamas unless it assures international community it will depart Gaza after war, presents realistic post-war ‘picture’

Former prime minister Ehud Olmert in a Keshet TV interview broadcast on March 17, 2018 (Keshet screenshot)
Former prime minister Ehud Olmert (Channel 12 screenshot)

Former prime minister Ehud Olmert warned Saturday that the international community will force Israel to end its war against Hamas before it is completed if the government continues to refuse to tell the world what it envisages for post-war Gaza.

Interviewed on Channel 12, Olmert, a longtime bitter critic of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, dismissed what he termed the bluster and boasting of the current political leadership, which he said was “claiming that we have as much time as we need — months, till March, next year.” Such assertions are “unfounded,” Olmert said. “We have very limited time.”

“If we don’t set out the picture for the next stage, we will not be given the time to complete the military operation to break the military power of Hamas,” Olmert warned. “We are much closer to the end of the military operation than the bragging political leadership [claims].”

Visiting Israel on Thursday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken publicly endorsed Israel’s “obligation” to neutralize “the threat posed by Hamas,” but also reportedly told the war cabinet that it likely has weeks rather than months to do so.

To gain more time and patience from the international community, said Olmert, Israel should declare now that it will withdraw from Gaza when the war is over, and present a viable vision for Gaza after Hamas, as Secretary of State Blinken, the Biden administration and the international community have repeatedly pressed it to do.

“We have to tell the world what we want,” said Olmert, who was prime minister from 2006 to 2009 and later went to jail for accepting bribes and obstruction of justice.

“Do we want to negotiate with the Palestinians or not?” he asked. “If we don’t say we are ready to negotiate,” and that means no two-state solution, Israel will lose the patience and support of the international community, he warned. But the Netanyahu government “doesn’t want to do this, because it is not prepared to move in that direction; it believes it can continue to mislead the international community.”

United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, center, gestures to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, right, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, left, at a meeting at a hotel in Jerusalem, on February 19, 2007. (Flash90)

Olmert said there was “no chance that any Arab soldier or Palestinian will enter Gaza at Israel’s direction. There is no avoiding the entry of foreign forces — from Europe, from NATO countries — although not a NATO force,” he said.

“The Palestinian Authority is not a Zionist group; they are not our friends; they are on the other side,” Olmert stressed. “But Mahmoud Abbas’s [PA] security forces today work with our security forces to try to prevent terrorism in Judea and Samara at a time when we are fighting in Gaza… We have no other partner.”

Added Olmert: “Ruling out the idea of negotiations [with the PA] is telling the international community that we have no interest in a future political solution.”

But a viable solution is essential, he said. “We deluded ourselves that the Palestinian problem did not exist until it blew up in our faces on October 7 in an intolerable way.

“We have to make peace with our enemies,” saod Olmert. “It’s either the PA or Hamas.”

“For this government, the PA was a ‘burden’, as [far-right finance minister] Smotrich says, and Hamas was an ‘asset’,” said Olmert, referencing a 2015 interview by Smotrich. “I think Hamas is an enemy. I think the PA is not an asset, but it is the group we have to speak to,” he said, within a framework including the international community and relevant Arab states.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) with Ehud Olmert in 2009 (photo credit: Yossi Zamir/Flash90)
File: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) with Ehud Olmert in 2009. (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

Olmert also called for Netanyahu to resign, saying that “every minute that Netanyahu stays is damage to Israel.” He said he was not calling for a whole new government, but that Israel right now needed “a leadership with courage, integrity [and a sense of] moral obligation.”

Olmert concluded the interview by saying that one of the General Reconnaissance Unit (Sayeret Matkal) commandos who saved then Sgt. Netanyahu from drowning in the Suez Canal in 1969, Eitan Ziv, was murdered by Hamas terrorists (Hebrew link) along with his wife on October 7 at Kibbutz Kfar Aza. Olmert claimed Netanyahu did not even call the family to express condolences.

Olmert last year lost a defamation case against the Netanyahu family after claiming they were irreparably mentally ill.

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