Olmert: ‘Bibi claims more devastating than anything I was accused of’
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Olmert: ‘Bibi claims more devastating than anything I was accused of’

Ehud Olmert was interviewed by Rageh Omaar, ITV’s international affairs editor.

Jenni Frazer is a freelance journalist

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert
Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert

In a jaw-droppingly candid interview this week, the former Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, said he “missed the opportunity to do what I think is essential for the future of the state of Israel. I think that the present government is not doing, what I think is very important, in order to secure the state of Israel as a democratic and Jewish state. In this respect, the opportunity to do what I think could have influenced the course of history is something that I regret”.

Mr Olmert, the former mayor of Jerusalem, served as Israel’s prime minister from 2006 to 2009. He stood down as prime minister in order to fight a string of corruption and bribery charges against him, but was convicted and spent 16 months in prison, leaving in 2017. He failed in an attempt to get President Reuven Rivlin to erase his criminal record, which would have allowed him to return to front-line politics.

As the star guest of the Zionist Federation, this year marking its 120th anniversary, Mr Olmert was interviewed by Rageh Omaar, ITV’s international affairs editor.

It was a pugnacious performance delivered with relaxed humour, in which he declared that politicians from “almost all” the Israeli parties regularly consulted him for his advice. He dismissed a question about what the departure of Tsipi Livni meant for the future of the two-state solution, with a growl: “What has it to do with her?”

Of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s current woes, facing corruption charges, Mr Olmert was scathing. “Whatever he is suspected of is much bigger, much wider and much more devastating than anything I was ever accused of. I was never indicted for anything I did when I was prime minister. Everything that he is suspected of is what he [allegedly] did while he is sitting in the prime minister’s office. And yet I was not the one who said he should resign because of the suspicions. What I criticise him for is what he is doing now, in order to prevail [in the elections] at a cost of things which I think are damaging the national interests of Israel. “For instance, do we need to go to Chad? Don’t we have other places to go? Chad? Chad, which is boycotted by almost everyone in the world, and needs the good relations which Israel has in America in order to build up their position? That’s not the kind of international relations we should be doing”.

Mr Olmert promptly produced an example while he himself was prime minister, in the immediate aftermath of Operation Cast Lead in January 2009. “One night after the ceasefire, six world leaders — Gordon Brown, Angela Merkel, Nicholas Sarkozy, Silvio Berlusconi, Zapatero from Spain, Topolanek from the Czech Republic, and 12 foreign ministers, all came for dinner at the home of the prime minister at 24 hours’ notice. So, such relations existed before”.

Mr Olmert also quoted himself approvingly when trying to persuade Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas to accept his far-reaching peace plan. “The bottom line is that this was an opportunity created by us. We initiated it, we put it on the table. We said to the Palestinians, the lives of millions of Israelis and Palestinians will never be the same again, say yes! Do it! And he [Abbas] hesitated. And I said to him, President, remember what I say to you now. In the next 50 years there will not be a prime minister of Israel that would propose to you what I do now. Say yes!”

Any peace plan which would eventually be signed, he predicted, “will be the Olmert plan. There will be no other.”

Earlier, more than 250 guests heard a moving address from Lt-Col Eyal Dror, the IDF convenor of Operation Good Neighbour, the humanitarian medical rescue operation for Syrian civilians on the Golan Heights, which concluded in August 2018. Paul Charney, the ZF chair, welcomed guests and incoming executive director Emma Bergen. Tribute was paid to outgoing executive director Arieh Miller, who is becoming chief executive of the Union of Jewish Students.

 

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