Chair Dame Louise Ellman:
Good afternoon everybody and welcome to parliament. I am Louise Ellman, I am a Liverpool MP. I am very pleased to see all of you here and I am particular pleased to see our guest speaker, former Prime Minister of Israel, Ehud Olmert.
Ehud was elected to the Knesset in 1973, he was the youngest member. In 1993, he became Mayor of Jerusalem, and after Prime Minister Ariel Sharon suffered a stroke, he became the Prime Minister of Israel in 2006, holding office until 2009. He put together a comprehensive peace deal. Perhaps the most comprehensive peace deal that has been put forward, including management of religious sites in Jerusalem, transfer of territory of Israel and the Palestinians, and ease of passage from Hebron to the Gaza strip. Very sadly, ten years on, I don’t think there has been a reply from the Palestinians, there has been no progress, and now we are witnessing tragic violence.
Ehud, we are very pleased to have you with us today, and I’d like to invite you to speak and… [inaudible].
Guest Speaker Ehud Olmert:
Thank you very much. I am delighted and honoured to be your guest, Dame Ellman, and members of parliament and guests. This is the first time I’m speaking in parliament, in one of the committee rooms. I think Jason, who escorted me over here, reminded me that perhaps, that I once spoke as Prime Minister in 2006.
At a time when Tony Blair was Prime Minster and I was his guest a month before the second Lebanese war, so I’m delighted to have this opportunity now and thank you for inviting me.
I would briefly discuss some of the issues that are presently on top of the international agenda with regard to the state of Israeli and perhaps after you will be gracious enough to ask me some less comfortable questions, and I’ll try my best to answer you. One of these issues which is now very much on the agenda and every day on the media covering the state of Israel and the relations with the Palestinians is of course, the daily confrontation in Gaza. Now one thing must be always remembered – is that Israel doesn’t occupy an inch of Palestinian territory in Gaza. As you recall we pulled out in Gaza in 2005 and presently where Israel is not in any way part of the territory which is in dispute. Now, in spite of the fact that we pulled out entirely from Gaza, which to this day I think was the right step to take at the time, there was not almost one day without attacks from Gaza by all different means. Rockets shot at Israel townships and cities in the Southbank of Israel, or terrorist attempts to penetrate into the state of Israel through tunnels which they were digging or in other ways. I know at this time, there was a genuine concern amongst many, even those who are very strong supporters of Israel, as to whether we apply enough measures in order to prevent a humanitarian disaster in Gaza, and this is a legitimate concern and we have to address this.
But let’s not forget that on day one after the Israeli’s pull-out of Gaza, already, there were violent attacks against Israeli’s, by Hamas, which controls Gaza. So, when I hear some of those who criticize the state of Israel and the Israeli government, one has to set the record straight. Whilst the agreement is that we don’t care about humanitarian issues in Gaza, and people are suffering and Gaza is under siege and Israel doesn’t provide the necessary means, or does not allow inhabitants of Gaza to use the necessary elementary means that can upgrade the quality of life, and so on and so forth, one should remember that from day one, after the pull out of Israel, there were rocket attacks, terrorist attacks, with many Israeli victims and causalities as a result of this, and to a large degree, this [inaudible] which has existed since then, is a result of the fact that the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, was not responded adequately ,with good will, and genuine desire to try and establish a different type of relationship between Israel and those who were in Gaza.
Now, at this time, there are two elementary things that we have to bear in mind.
One, Israel can’t afford and will not, any attempt by Palestinians in Gaza to penetrate the fence. The fence is the border. When tens of thousands of people with weapons, with violent intentions, are trying to cross the border, they have to be stopped. What we are doing, is, inevitable, this has to be done, and we will continue to prevent them from penetrating the state of Israel. Its why, mostly by Hamas, many of the Hamas people involved in these attempts, are part of these, with an obvious desire to create chaos at the heart of the country, for all kinds of purposes.
The other thing, is that, it is definitely important to use measures that will reduce the violent against those who attempt entry into Israel, with [inaudible]. I must be very honest with you, I am not sure that under all circumstances, in all of those events, we did the best in order to reduce the number of casualties, and this is something that is seriously discussed in Israel. The army is under instructions by the government, and I’m known not to be the most ardent supporter of this government, so it’s not natural for me to spell it out, anything in support of my government. I’m in opposition, it’s well-known, but what is right, is right. The government gave the instructions to make every possible effort to avoid unnecessary victim casualties amongst those who attempted entry into Israel, but at the same time, allow no one to cross the border, something all governments I know, a western government, or democratic government, would do. There can be no question or argument about it. So two things; we will not allow them to enter, and number two, we have to make, and if we make mistakes, it’s regrettable, but we should try in all our powers, to make sure, the number of victims will be minimal, if at all. To the utmost degree.
Well it’s also true that Hamas is terrorist organisation. They spend their limited resources in order to build a military power. They are not interested in upgrading the quality of life for people in Gaza. The question is, is it smart to ignore this reality and to say, as we could, ‘this is their problem, their choice, their priority, they chose it, that’s what they do, let them deal with it’. Or shall we try to find ways in order, without taking unnecessary risks, for the security of the people living in the south part of Israel, to improve the opportunities, of the people living in Gaza, in order to cope with their daily needs. I think that we should try to do it. Perhaps we haven’t done enough in the past. We should do more. Will do without assuming a responsibility for the overall responsibility for the situation in Gaza, which is not ours. There can be no contradictory demands from the people of Israel, the government of Israel. Whichever government is of the day, to pull out from the territories and at the same time, to be responsible for what happened inside the territories, perpetrated by their own, non-democratic and terrorist leadership. The two things are not compatible, it is impossible to reconcile between the two. It is their responsibility, our interest, with more commitment, to avoid any unnecessary actions that can hurt innocent civilians, will do.
Recently as you know, Iran occupied a lot of our attention and a lot of our time. Not just Israel, but here, with certain dimensions of the Iranian issue. We dealt with two issues. One, was the attempt by Iran to penetrate into Syria. Their military power is obviously threatening the security of the state of Israel. Iran is a declared enemy of Israel. We will talk about the nuclear issue in a moment. But Iran is an enemy of Israel, and when an enemy is penetrating a neighbouring country with military power, making it obvious and explicit that they have serious intentions of hurting the security of the state of Israel as part of their overall campaign against the state of Israel, it is the right of our country to take measures in order to prevent, not to wait until they will have tens of thousands equipped with modern weapons and missiles aiming at the people of Israel, but preventing them from coming to the point where it will become bloody, violence, and dangerous. There I think that the measures taken by the Israel government over the last few months in trying to prevent the Iranians from expanding the presence in Syria, where [inaudible] is completely justified from the point of view of our security, and must be understood and respected by all those who have an interest in the situation, general speaking, in the middle-east, and particular, in the stability of that part, that is subject, for almost, endless, military confrontations over the last seven years as part of the civil war in Syria.
The Russians are playing a game. I’ll be very careful not to criticize unnecessarily, the policy of President Putin. I discussed this issue with him many times. He made it very clear to me, and I believe him – that he is not an enemy of Israel, he is different from those who controlled Russia for many years, the communist. He admits they were [inaudible] Israeli he is not. He has many friends in Israel. He feels Israel is partly a Russian country as some many Israeli’s are Russians and citizens, and former citizens which were part of the soviet Russia, and they speak Russian. In fact he says there are more Russian speaking citizens in Israel, proportionate to the population, than any country in the world apart from the former soviet Russia. But at the same time, he also says ‘I’m not going to pull out of any position of influence Russia has. I’m president of Russia and I want to exercise relative influence of Russia where I can. I want to know that if the USA is expected not to do anything different, then why should I?’ So far I understand. However, the issue of how much, the flexibility that Russia manifests towards the military movement of Iran in that part of the world, is a matter that can be judged by us, as far as our interests concern, and therefore I don’t hesitate to take the Iranians bases in Syria, and the Prime Minister explained it to President Putin. I will concluded by saying there was a time when I discussed this issue of the Russian weapons provided to Syria and every time I visited President Putin, he used to say ‘Prime Minster, why do you have to worry? The missiles we provide them are defensive missiles. If your planes will not be above Damascus, or most specifically, above the palace in Damascus, they may not meet my missiles’. This is a smart argument, but of course, the answer is that when someone has very effective defensive measures, he sometimes will be provoked to attack, knowing that he will be able to defend himself effectively. So when he provides someone who is belligerent by nature, with sophisticated defensive measures, you may trigger him to do that which no one wants, that he will do.
In any way, much later, when we discussed other issues, he complained to me, that my friend, referring to the then president of the United States President Bush, wanted to put American missiles on the border of Russia, in the Czech Republic and in Poland, and he says ‘how dare he even think that we will allow him to put a mechanism of this size on our borders?’ So I said ‘Mr President, I said these missiles are defensives missiles. If your missiles won’t be above Warsaw or Prague, you will not meet the American missiles’. Well here I think he respected my answer but I’m not sure that it satisfied his concerns at that time, but he perhaps understood much better why we were concerned when he wanted to provide the Syrians with missiles. In any event, the policy of Israel is responsible, restrained to the degree that is necessary, and will continue to prevent the expansion of the Iranian presence, inside Syria, in a manner that may be against security of the state of Israel
Then comes the issue of the famous agreement that was signed by president Obama, with Iran, with many countries including yours. I personally thought at that time, that the agreement was an improvement to the situation, without anything. Was it the best possible agreement? No. But it was an improvement in relation to the situation without one. The decision of President Trump, in my mind, to cancel the agreement without offering or agreeing on an alternative which will be accepted and coordinated with all the partners to the agreement, may worsen the situation, in comparison to the fact there was one. In any event, my position at the time I was in charge, and much later when the Prime Minster Netanyahu took over, was always the same. The ultimate responsibilities to stop the Iranians from being nuclear is not the Israelis, so it is not for us to attack the Iran military and try and destroy these installations, the nuclear installations, wherever they are. But it is first and foremost, the responsibility of the super powers, with America at the head, and we don’t have to act separately and independently without complete agreement, coordination, with the United States of American, and this is my advice to my government, still today. But, in the meantime, of course, the President decided to cancel the agreement. I don’t know how it will develop considering that one thing is to have not the best agreement, but an agreement that is supported by China, Russia, Great Brittan, Germany, France, and the United States, and a situation where there is no agreement, but with America, China and Russia, and Germany and great Britain, and France, all of them continue to support the agreement that America pulled out from. I think this has to be resolved, and it is incumbent on the president to take necessary measures to do it as quick as possible, as I think it make give an opening for the Iranians, to do things that we don’t want them to do. That may create [inaudible] peace in the future.
Finally, everyone is always interested in the possible agreement for what is known to be, a political process, between us and the Palestinians. To the best of my knowledge, at this day and time, there is not such a process. We don’t talk to them, they don’t talk to us. We don’t present new ideas, they don’t present their ideas. So, it’s in a stalemate. I heard that this peace plan that was prepared by the American administration, and that soon enough it would be presented to the sides. I don’t know if it will be true. I read stories about it, the press, websites, everywhere, but I don’t know if it’s true, the nature and component of this peace deal. There is only one thing that is significant in this context and this is the fact that if President Trump shall officially propose a peace plan, then it means he believes peace can be achieved. That makes the two of us who believe in it. I proposed a peace plan to the Palestinians already ten years ago, which was the most far-reaching ever to be proposed to them and now president trump, who would’ve not proposed something unless he thought that it was possible to achieve it. So what it is, I don’t know. What the Palestinians did not accept, that I can’t tell you. I propose a peace plan and I will not go into all the details as, it’s, as we say in Yiddish [inaudible] – it’s a long story. I will say it to you briefly.
Number one, I prosed a territorial solution, which is based on the [inaudible] with minor swaps of territories. Number one, which response, accurately and completely to their desires, aspirations and demands of the Palestinians since 1967. Number two, I propose, that obviously Jerusalem is the capital and will remain the capital of the state of Israel. But Jerusalem is not what the City limits today. I was the Mayor of Jerusalem of ten years, perhaps there is no wonder there is no one involved in this process who knows Jerusalem better than I do. [inaudible] all of these townships which are part of what is today part of Jerusalem, are as far as I am concerned, shall be vacated by Israel. We don’t need them. The inhabitants there are Palestinians. All those townships should be part of the Palestine state, and they can the capital of the Palestinian state. [Inaudible] Jerusalem will be the capital of the Palestinian state, and the rest, including all the neighbourhoods but after ’67, will be part, are part, and will continue to be part of the state of Israel as the capital.
Now this is not an idea, a hypothetical idea. This was presented by me as Prime Minster to [inaudible] as the official peace plan as the state of Israel. It contained two other elements. One was, the holy base. The Holy base is the most sensitive place in the world. It is holy to the Jews, it is holy to the Muslims. It is holy to the Christians. There can be no peace, I am confident about it, if there will be an exclusive political sovereignty for one nation there. There can be no peace. And it is entirely immaterial, if one side, and this is my mind, our side, has fundamentally much stronger argument to justify an Israeli sovereignty of all the territory. That will not make a difference, there will not be peace. Therefore the choice Israel has to make is what do we want more – we want to exercise our historical right regardless of the possible political consequences? Or we want to find an appropriate arrangement that will satisfy our religious desires, and our emotional attachment to these places, and yet at the same time, not prevent possible peace? What I proposed was that there would be no exclusive sovereignty of the holy base for anyone. There will be trust of five nations – the Saudis, Jordanians, Palestinians, Israelis and Americans. There will be authorisation of course, a very detailed way by the security council of the United nations, to have powers to administer the holy base as an open place for all believers, from all different faith that are interested in coming, and exercising their rights, religious rights, in those places.
Practically, this is the situation right now. [inaudible] but practically, when there is a dispute about entry to the temple mountain to the [inaudible], then Israel is really practically, limited in its power to impose regulations over the movement still. When the last time there was a confrontation, we had to change our decisions, and to remove all the facilities that we have put in order to control the entry of [inaudible], on top of temple mount. So, in practical terms, there must be an arrangement, administered by a trust of five nations, which comprise of Muslims, Christians and Jews, which will be authorised by the United Nations, and which will keep this Holy Base completely accessible and open for everyone.
And finally, I agree to discuss the issue of the refugees with the Palestinians, within the framework of the [inaudible], as one approved by the League of Nations in Beirut on February of 2002, and subsequently also, in Riyadh, in March of 2007. I made it clear and I have to say that Doctor[inaudible] Abbas, of the Palestinian authority, when talking about the issue of the refugees with me, said ‘I don’t want to change the nature of Israel’. Which means, that he understands, that a return of many many Palestinians into the state of Israel will never naturally also, inevitably, automatically change the nature of Israel from a Jewish state to something else. He said he doesn’t want to do it – ‘I need a symbolic gesture’. I said I’m ready to offer symbolic nature, as long as this is not a recognition of the right of return which we will never accept. So he said ‘okay what about family reunion?’ One must [inaudible] of this offer. He could have said ‘what do I ask? Reunion of three families? [inaudible]. 600,000 people? What’s the big deal?’ I said no family deal. A re-entry of a limited number of people, I talked about 500 as a symbolic gesture. In five years, only the individual and humanitarian bases.
Now, to sum it up, this was my peace claim, presented, officially to the Palestinians. Number one, 67 [inaudible]. Number two Jerusalem, the Arab part of Jerusalem is part of the Palestine state, of course the two state solution. Number three, the holy base will be administered by trust not exclusive sovereignty for anyone. Number four, the refugee issue will be within these parameters that I have outlined before, will be negotiated within the framework of the [inaudible] initiative.
This was presented to the Palestinians. This was almost the most comprehensive, accurate answer to all the demands of the Palestinians from 1967. To this day, I’m waiting for the answer. Now I emphasize that I’m waiting for the answer because of Abu [inaudible] says [inaudible], I showed him the map, I showed him the map, with every item, outlined in the map of the borders, including the territories which would be swapped, and the territories which will be then, become, a Palestinian state, and were part of the state of Israel pre-67, the same size. He say to me ‘why won’t you give me the[inaudible], and I said [inaudible] ‘you can take it’. He said ‘well I can’t’. You know, the little that I learnt about the negotiations, is that if you take it non-signed, you’ll disappear and say in a few years I’m ready to negotiate, as this is already given to me. No, this is not what I offered. This was a take it or I don’t give it. He said ‘okay guys we will see tomorrow, and maybe’. And I told him ‘this was September of 2008 and in a couple of weeks’ time, the general assembly meets in New York, and lets go together with this map, with the principles agreed, signed with initials, and will come to the UN security council and general assembly, and we will declare that we declared the principles of peace and will shake hands in front of the whole world and everything will change forever. And they said no.
Chair Dame Louise Ellman:
Thank you very much for those insights, and a lot of wisdom there as well, focusing on the really key issues in Gaza, Iran and Russia, and the future relations of the Palestinians, and trying to seek peace. Now, who would want to ask questions? I’m going to take two or three together, and ask people to give their names before you ask a question.
We are often told how crowded the Gaza strip is. Two places are more [inaudible]. Is there any reason why [inaudible] Gaza cannot be a successful city state?
We have discussed last night, [inaudible], what I was wondering, is whether relinquishing the settlement, [inaudible], will bring us peace in [inaudible]?
My question is, do you have any view as to why, Abu [inaudible], did not say yes?
Guest Speaker Ehud Olmert:
Yes I must say that due to the distance, I didn’t quite hear the first question, so I am going to give you a wonderful answer, but it may not be for the question you asked. So I apologise in advance. What I want to say is this. Look, Gaza was part of the Palestinian authority that was elected in the general elections on the 20th January 2006. The authority of the Palestinian government at the time, covered, also Gaza, and the ultimate authority was that of Dr Abbas and Abu [inaudible]. In early June 2007, Hamas, in a brutal act of violence, perhaps, as Abu [inaudible] told me, and all his closest advisors in the inners circles, it was more brutal than anything they ever suffered in the wars between them and Israel. Hundreds of PLO guys, of the side which is closer to Abu [inaudible], were massacred and killed, and tortured, by Palestinians on the Hamas side. Hamas took over control over Gaza and wiped out entirely, what has reminded me of the original Palestinian authority that was run by Abu [inaudible]. From then on, it is in a state of turmoil and chaos. As I say, of course we have to take measures of self-defence, and maybe I am prepared to recognise that sometimes in this exchange, under these very uncomfortable circumstances, we used excessively, our military superiority, against them. Maybe. I regret every such event. One must understand the circumstances, the process, and the fact that everything happened after Israel pulled out completely from Gaza, not to be an occupier. I regret, I have to say, that we didn’t use the opportunity we had when we already took military measures in December 2008, in what is known as the [inaudible] operation, to remove Hamas from control over Gaza, for reasons that I don’t want to go into right now, but we didn’t do regrettably. We should have done it the same we did in the South of Lebanon, which was to defeat Hamas completely as we could, then to come to our allies and friend in the EU and America and help bring, under the auspices of the UN and international force that will occupy Gaza, and control and prevent it from being taken over by terrorists again, in order to bring law and order and civility and restraint, and human consideration, into the life of people living there. It is still incumbent on the international community to make an effort in this direction.
Now, settlements. When I talk about a two state solution, okay [inaudible]. With a crowd which traditionally and generally isn’t friendly to Israel. I didn’t go into all the details, but I did say what I basically presented as a peace plan. Of course if there is to be a Palestinian state and Israel is to pull out from 95% of the territories, even if Israel is going to only hold 4.5% maybe of the territory in three centres. According to President Brush in this famous letter to the Prime Minister of Israel on the 14th April 2004, in wish he says ‘due to the demographic changes which took place over the years, it is conceivable that three centres in the territories, will be retained by Israel, which is the [inaudible], townships surrounding Jerusalem, and the [inaudible]. These three centres will remain under the sovereignty of Israel as part of the agreement and similar size of blocs of territories will become part of the Palestinian state that will be created’. This means most of the other settlements must be vacated, and these settlements, and the people who live in these settlements and townships, will be relocated into the areas that these three blocs of territories that will then become the state of Israel. There will then be a solution that will not require all those who live in the territories to move out of the territories, but they will have to relocate to territories that will be recognised by the international community as a part of Israel. But most of the other settlements, other than the three blocs will be vacated. That was my plan, and by the way I believe this plan is practical and doable. The number of settlers living in the territories is much smaller than the official numbers as every time they talk about the 450,000 Israelis who live in the territories, they count those who live in the neighbourhood who live in the city of Jerusalem and, by everyone, it is understood this will remain the state of Israel, thus not needed to be vacated. The others who live in the territories and do not live in the three blocs which will also remain the state of Israel, again, all the neighbourhoods that were built in Jerusalem, are already counted in the 4.5% that will be retained by Israel, and will be given as a swap with the Palestinians from previous territories already seen as a part of Israel. In practicality, the number of settlers that will have to be relocated will be less than 100,000. This is an entirely different story. It can be done, it will not be easy, and there will be a terrible battle inside the state of Israel. It will be very painful, divisive, inside the state of Israel. I think this is unavoidable. It has to be done, and the sooner, the better.
Finally, why did Abu [inaudible]. Why didn’t my government, which is not mine but the Israeli government, do certain things, but to venture and answer on behalf of the Palestinians, why Abu [inaudible], didn’t answer my claims is a bit presumptions I think. I guess there were quite a few reasons for it. Partly because, it was a very tough decision to make, even for him. It was much tougher for me. Because I was the one who had to give. He was the one who had to receive. But, we know that we used to say the famous [inaudible], the former late foreign minister of the state of Israel, he coined this famous Idiom that ‘Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss and opportunity. In recent years, maybe we are trying to imitate him, so I am not quite using it too often. But, the fact is, in 1947, there was a missed opportunity. In 1967, when Israel offered them peace, basically more or less, with, almost complete pull out from the territories, they said the famous [inaudible] – no negations, no recognition, and no peace. This was the official position of the Arab countries. So, throughout history, they missed opportunities to say yes, and they say no. There were always very good reasons for the point of view of the complexities, and the contradictions, and the hatred, and the different factions within the Palestinians, and the Muslims and Arab communities that may have given a good excuse for someone to look for excuses. But leadership is overcoming the difficulties, the contradictions, and taking a decision that changes history. That’s what I was trying to do when I was prime minster, despite the fact that throughout most of my political life, I have different opinions, and I advocated different opinions. When I was Mayor of Jerusalem I advocated different opinions, but at certain times in life you have to come to a constant and make a decision that is difficult, heart-breaking and painful, but you have to think higher, and unfortunately, I hope that what I did was in this direction. Unfortunately I am not sure that the other side was ready at that time.
You proved in your last comments how pragmatic you were in changing your positions. If you were still prime Minster, what would do, to persuade Abbas to come back to the table, bare in mind that life gets run over by a bus, or dies, or whatever, the next in line is [inaudible], inside prison, for five life sentences? And can I just ask, what answer you would give to those who criticize Netanyahu, and all party leaders, who insist on Palestinians recognising the Jewish state?
On the basis that Abbas is an elderly, and as I understand, sick man. When he is replaced, what sort of destabilising influence, do you think that will have on the Palestinian state?
Chair Dame Louise Ellman:
We are short on time, so will leave it there. Two short questions to answer.
Guest Speaker Ehud Olmert:
Dame Ellman, I have to thank you. Based on my experience, which I’m sure is smaller than yours, I hope that you share this with me, that questions are almost much simpler than the answers.
Mr Lewis, what would’ve happened, to this I want to tell you a story, okay? I still remember because I wrote my book now and has been published and made, some [inaudible]. I said with the secretary of state for the United States, Condoleezza Rice, on the 3rd of May 2008, for what she described as a private dinner, that I invited here to, to have with me for the first time [inaudible] in Jerusalem. This was mayday, and you know May, normally, apart from this year, is the best in Jerusalem, the best time of the year. It is not hot yet. Not cold, you can sit outside. You can just enjoy the time. Now, she writes in her book, that she was perplexed, why I insist why I am only here and a partner. She said we occasionally had more in the meeting but usually just an entourage on her side and my side, and the usual side. We were sitting in the [inaudible] of the Prime Minster, which was open, a garden. She says that the minute she sat at the table, even before the waiters brought the food I already started to share the ideas of the peace plan that I was going to propose to the Palestinians. I became very excited, so she writes, and I kept talking and every time the waiters came with the food, I pushed them back and said ‘ no no no, you come back’, and I continued to speak. In the end we didn’t have dinner, and had a quick espresso, and she was [inaudible]. She went away, [inaudible], and I called the white house on a secure line, and then she adds ‘however, who knows, who else listens to you, when you call from an Israeli [inaudible]. She is right, although it was a secure line. She asked to speak to the president but he wasn’t there and talked to the then national advisor. She said to him, ‘tell the president, he is right. Olmert wants peace’, she says. [inaudible] died, before he could make it, as [inaudible] died, for far less. That’s what she writes in her book.
Now why do I say this? I was kind of killed, not literally, but the question is, now you ask me, have I become again Prime minister, it’s not realistic. There is a way to bring Hamas back to the table. I think there is. I think that the way depends completely, good or bad, right or wrong, I don’t go into this now. I definitely don’t want to say anything about the government of Israel now. But it definitely depends on one fundamental thing – whether there is trust or isn’t trust on a personal basis, on the leadership of Israel. From that point, I’m not talking about the type of trust we should have with the Palestinians, but if there is a trust, there is a side that represents Israel that genuinely wants to achieve what he says he wants to achieve. If there is such trust, I feel there is a way to bring Hamas back to the table of negotiations and conclude what will always be achieved. What Abu [inaudible] himself said,[inaudible], would have been concluded.
Now, I said before, and I think it was significant, the first day we met I still remember the day. It was the 23rd of December, 2006. Almost 12 years ago, on the 23rd December 2006, at the resident of the Prime minster of Israel, after a very nice and friendly dinner, and warm encounter between me and my staff, and [inaudible] Abbas and his staff, we went to the study to have a private talk. He say to me ‘Mr Olmert, I know that you’re smoking cigars. Why don’t you smoke one? I don’t know [inaudible]. No, I just want an excuse to smoke cigarettes’. So we were smoking and talking. When we were talking about the refugee issue, he mentioned something I said before. He said ‘I don’t want to change the nature of the state of Israel’. What did it mean? It meant that he knows that if he wants to have hundreds of thousands of Palestinians returning to the state of Israel, it will turn Israel to something different from what it is, which is a Jewish state. So I believe that at the end of the process, when everything will be concluded and agreed, the Palestinians will definitely obviously recognise Israel as a Jewish state. Is it smart to demand from the Palestinians to make this concession at the beginning of the negotiations instead of at the end of negotiations? Remains to be discussed. My idea is that there would have been part of an agreement, but, first things first, last things last, and I think that this could have been achieved.
Therefore, my way if you want to say, what would be my advice to Netanyahu, this is my position, to the extent Netanyahu is prepared to listen to me. This is how I would have handled this issue. Not to give up, first of all, to be honest. I don’t think that Israel needs a recognition from the Palestinians that Israel is a Jewish state. Israel is a Jewish state. But, if, it wants to have a statement from the Palestinians, then he has to wait until everything else is agreed upon, in order to lock it up with this statement as well, and I think it can be done.
Now the other question is what will happen if Abu [inaudible] will not be the leader? First of all, I wish him long life and good health. By the way, I have to say, I don’t share the attitude, that whoever has it, that he is an enemy of peace or anything of this nature at all. I disagree. I know abu [inaudible] better than anyone is Israel because I met with him 36 times in a period of 2 years, 2 and a half years. It’s quite a lot. I knew him before I was Prime Minster, but I am talking about meeting him in an official capacity as the Prime Minister of Israel. 36 times, for hours at a time. I spent the most time with Abu [inaudible], more time than any Israeli leader spent with any Palestinian leader combined, all the Israeli leaders together. He wants peace. I have no doubt about it. He [inaudible] have the courage, probably. He [inaudible] have the guts, probably. He may be afraid of the possible ramifications to the unity of different factions amongst the Palestinians, and therefore he didn’t have the ability to overcome the fears and go forward as I think I was ready, maybe. But, he doesn’t support terror. He spoke against terror whilst [inaudible] was the leader of Palestine at the time of the [inaudible], and said he was against terror, against the suicide attacks, that was dangerous for his position and his life, and he spelt it out in the most explicit way. To this day, despite the difference and disagreements between Israel and Palestinians, I can reassure you, and I know what I’m talking about, that one of the reasons that there is almost no terror in the West bank, is because of the cooperation with the law enforcement of the Palestinians and their sharing of information and intelligence with our secret service. The first that admits that this is the reasons for the lack of terror in the west bank is the secret service of Israel. This is because of their cooperation. Abu [inaudible] is not an enemy of peace. I wish him long life, and hope he will stay here.
If he will go for whatever reason, there will be a period of instability and it will be bad, and I think it is to, in the middle east, we Jews, use this idiom, ‘that after the destruction of the 2nd temple, [inaudible] was given only to idiots or fools’. So if this is true in general, it is certainly true about the Middle East, and double true about the Palestinians if something of this nature takes place. So I don’t know what to say now and don’t want to go into speculation about what will happen now and what may happen. At the end I may think that there will be a responsible leadership. We will do everything that we can in order to not allow terrorist factions to take over as it will damage the security of the state of Israel, but I think that there is enough important and responsible and reasonable leaders amongst the Palestinians, that would be able to eventually create the necessary coalition in order to take over and lead with momentum that will hopefully lead to peace.
Thank you very much.
Chair Dame Louise Ellman:
Thank you very much for speaking to us and answering those very direct questions, and I think you have left us with some encouragement, and the benefit from your experience and leadership, and positive thoughts and reminded us to always look forward to the objectives, and that’s peace.