Better Late Than Never?

In a recent interview, outgoing Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert made some shocking statements about what Israel is going to have to give up:

Virtually on his way out the door from the prime minister’s office, Ehud Olmert told Israelis what he really thinks of the future of the peace process.

In a sweeping interview with the mass circulation newspaper Yedioth Ahranot, Mr. Olmert said on the eve of the Jewish New Year last week that Israelis are dreaming if they think they can make peace with the Palestinians without paying the price: a withdrawal from most of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights.

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,” Olmert told the Yediot Aharanot newspaper last week. “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.”

Asked if this included Jerusalem, he said: “Including in Jerusalem, with special solutions that I can envision on the topic of the Temple Mount and the sacred and historical sites.”

Olmert said that for 35 years he was unwilling to look at the realities of Jerusalem, the eastern half of which Israel annexed after the Six-Day War in 1967.

OK this is nice to hear.  But why now?  Why are you saying this now, after adopting a “take it or leave it” hard-line approach towards peacemaking for your entire career in government?    And isn’t this an admission that  previous Israeli peace attempts were ingenuous?    CSM notes how the comments are complicating Tipi Livni’s attempts to form a new cabinet:

To peace enthusiasts, this is good news for the future direction of the Kadima Party, which has supported a moderate if motionless platform since taking over in March 2006. To conservatives who don’t see conditions conducive to a settlement of the conflict, Olmert’s comments show a clear leftward tilt that puts him – and possibly Kadima – squarely in the camp of Israelis who are willing to make significant concessions to the Palestinians and the Syrians.

This means that while left or middle-of-the-road parties would like to join a government led by Livni, it will be harder for her to bring in parties such as Shas, which holds 10 percent of the seats in the 120-seat Knesset.

It seems to me that Olmert’s comments, which are truly extraordinary for a PM to say, are too spontaneous to actually be spontaneous.  Maybe he is saying this as part of some kind of  coordinated effort with Livni  to gradually prepare the Israeli public for the realities they are going to have to face-if they want serious peace. 

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