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Checkpoint Jerusalem Blog: "The daring speech Olmert could have given"

"Outgoing Israeli PM Ehud Olmert got a lot of pre-Jewish New Year attention for a lengthy farewell interview he gave to Yedioth Ahronoth in which he presented his most candid and detailed views on making peace with Israel's neighbors."
September 30, 2008

Outgoing Israeli PM Ehud Olmert got a lot of pre-Jewish New Year attention for a lengthy farewell interview he gave to Yedioth Ahronoth in which he presented his most candid and detailed views on making peace with Israel's neighbors.

Olmert made some sweeping statements about war and peace. By the end of the interview, it seemed as if Olmert had been transformed into a zealous "land-for-peace" convert in his waning days in office.

Olmert's conversion prompted Haaretz journalist Aluf Benn to scoff that the PM's actions never matched his words - and that his statements are "too little, too late."

Olmert is on his way out of office, is deeply unpopular, and has little political cachet left.

What might have happened if Olmert had made such declarations a year ago, before he was hobbled by the political corruption investigation that could still send him to prison?

Rolling Stone magazine once pioneered an interview style in which its writers melded the subject's words into one, eloquent, stream-of-consciousness  chat.

Below, in homage to that Rolling Stone style, is a cut-and-paste job of Olmert's Yedioth interview, presented as the speech to the nation that Olmert might have given a year ago:

Citizens of Israel: "On the eve of Rosh Hashanah, I wanted to talk with you about what is bothering me and what excites me about this country. I don't want to whip the State of Israel on the back. There is nothing I love more, there is nothing I am prouder of, than the State of Israel.

There are people who love to lash out at others, because apparently they do not have another way to reach any sort of personal satisfaction, a sense of getting something done. They are not important. They are only important because we devote time to them, not because they are really important.

What is important to me at the moment is where the people of Israel are going. I am concerned about the dangers and encouraged by the opportunities. What occupies me is what awaits my children and my grandchildren. In a few years, my grandchildren will ask what their grandfather did, what country we have left them.

In the end we have an opportunity that is limited in time-a time so short as to cause terrible distress-in which we may be able to take a historical step in our relations with the Palestinians and a historical step in our relations with the Syrians.

In both cases, the decision we have to make is a decision that we have been refusing for 40 years to look at open-eyed.

We have to reach an agreement with the Palestinians, the meaning of which is that in practice we will withdraw from almost all the territories, if not all the territories.

We will leave a percentage of these territories in our hands, but will have to give the Palestinians a similar percentage, because without that there will be no peace -- including in Jerusalem, with special solutions that I can envision on the topic of the Temple Mount and the sacred and historical sites.

Whoever talks seriously about wanting security in Jerusalem and not wanting tractors and bulldozers to crush the legs of his best friends, as happened to a close friend of mine, who lost a leg because he was run over by a terrorist on a bulldozer, has to give up parts of Jerusalem.

Whoever wants to hold on to all of the city's territory will have to bring 270,000 Arabs inside the fences of sovereign Israel.

It won't work.

A decision has to be made.

This decision is difficult, terrible, a decision that contradicts our natural instincts, our innermost desires, our collective memories, the prayers of the Jewish people for 2,000 years.

I am the first who wanted to enforce Israeli sovereignty on the entire city. I admit it. I am not trying to justify retroactively what I did for 35 years. For a large portion of these years, I was unwilling to look at reality in all its depth.

Why the fear? Whom are we afraid of?

Someone once said to me, a very senior official in the Israeli administration, they are still living in the War of Independence or the Sinai campaign. With them, it is all about tanks and land and controlling territories and controlled territories and this hilltop and that hilltop.

Who thinks seriously that if we sit on another hilltop, on another hundred meters, that this is what will make the difference for the State of Israel's basic security?

I read the words spoken by our retired generals, and I say, how is it possible that they have not learned anything and have not forgotten anything?

All these things are worthless.

Every grain of land in the expanse between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea that we give up will scorch my heart. These are parts of the historical Land of Israel, that have always belonged, in the most profound manner, to the Jewish people and their history.

We know full well that my governmental term is short, but the governmental term of others is also short. But we believe that there is a very great danger that there will be a bloody clash, which will thwart any possibility of continuing negotiations and perhaps will force us to be involved in the confrontation, with bloodshed, with everything that could happen as a result.

Arik Sharon spoke about painful prices, and refused to elaborate them. I say, there is no choice but to elaborate: In the end, we will have to withdraw from the lion's share of the territories, and for the territories we leave in our hands, we will have to give compensation in the form of territories within the State of Israel at a ratio that is more or less 1:1.

What I am saying to you now has not been said by any Israeli leader before me. The time has come to say these things. The time has come to put them on the table.

The goal is to try to reach for the first time the delineation of an exact border line between us and the Palestinians, where the whole world-the United States, the UN, Europe-will say, these are the borders of the State of Israel, we recognize them, we anchor them in formal resolutions of international institutions. These are Israel's borders, and these are the recognized borders of the Palestinian state.

Should I tell you that reaching peace is easy? I agree with you that it is difficult. Should I say that there are complexities? Without a doubt. That there are sensitivities? Undoubtedly. Should I tell you that there are uncertainties? There are uncertainties. Should I say that there are things that could go wrong? There is no doubt that things could go wrong.

On the Syrian issue too, what we need first and foremost is a decision.

I want to see whether there is one serious person in the State of Israel who believes that peace can be made with the Syrians without ultimately giving up the Golan Heights.

Everyone knows, and I don't have to elaborate, that when we had to take actions to ensure our security vis-…-vis the Syrians, we knew how to do so boldly, with imagination and force, and while taking risks. Still, we have to look two moves ahead.

Once, the thought that a division of Syrian tanks was standing on the Golan Heights and could move into the State of Israel, justifiably frightened us. Today we live in a different reality. We have the tools to stop a ground offensive without taking control of a single meter in Syria, and we have other tools with which we can win such a campaign if it develops in the places from which it develops, at the distances from which it will arrive.

We have proven this. The Syrians also know this.

True, an agreement with Syria bears a risk. Whoever wants to operate with zero risks, should move to Switzerland or Iceland. Whoever wants to make peace in the Middle East should understand that he also has to take risks. I am not proposing to take insane risks: I am proposing to take risks versus which there are chances of dramatic changes.

I am not proposing to make peace with Syria while only giving up the Golan Heights.

The Syrians know full well what they will have to give up in order to receive the Golan Heights. They will have to give up their relationship with Iran as it now exists; they will have to give up their relationship with Hezbollah; they will have to give up the continued backing they are giving to the Hamas terrorism, the al-Qaeda terrorism and the jihad in Iraq.

They know: These things have been made clear to them.

Let us assume that in the next year or two a regional war breaks out and we reach a military confrontation with Syria. I have no doubt that we will roundly defeat them; we are stronger than them.

I am telling you, Israel is the strongest country in the Middle East. We can face any of our adversaries, and we can face all the adversaries together and win. I only ask myself, what will happen when we beat them? First of all, we will pay prices, and they will be painful.

After we pay what we will pay, what will we tell them? Let's talk. And what will the Syrians say to us? Let's talk about the Golan Heights.

So I ask, why get into a war with the Syrians, [with] losses, destructions, damages, to reach what can be reached without paying such heavy prices.

When there is no peace, the chances of war are always greater.

And I say, we are strong enough as we are.

The strength we have today is great, and it is sufficient to face any threat. Now we have to see how we use this infrastructure of force in order to build peace and not to win a war.

The question is how we dismantle the complex system of what is known as the axis of evil, how we do this by smart, responsible diplomatic processes, which entail taking a risk.

I want to learn from my own mistakes. I did not see it then, I am not trying to justify myself. Exactly 30 years ago, when Menachem Begin came back from Camp David, I spoke against and I voted against. I admit it, I am not hiding it, I am not obfuscating on the matter.

When I look back, at the periods of the prime ministers who preceded me, Arik Sharon, Bibi Netanyahu, Ehud Barak, and the late Rabin, I say, each of them made a step that led us in the right direction, but at some point in time, at some juncture where a decision was required, the decision was not made.

I want to lead the State of Israel towards this juncture, towards a decision. Without hesitation, with full force and without fears. I am a person without fears. Not because I cannot appreciate dangers, but because I think that I know how to deal with dangers, knowing the might that the State of Israel has.

There are no ideal decisions. There is no situation where it can be said that you should do one, two, three and all the pieces will fall into place in some puzzle that you have assembled in your head.

I think that the attempt to presume to say today, when I am not yet finished, how I will be remembered in 10 years, 20 years, 30 years, there is something presumptuous and arrogant about that.

I can say one thing, that I hope that in the final analysis, people will know that I wanted to improve the State of Israel and to do everything so that it be a better country, a stronger country, a happier country. That is truly the thing that preoccupied me day and night. Nothing else.