Israels former leader addresses Mideast peace, Iran, Goldstone report

After Ehud Olmert spoke in Chicago two weeks ago, many Jewish leaders in Illinois felt the media focused too much on the protesters who disrupted his speech, rather than on the speech itself.

Akiva Tor, the consul general of Israel for the Pacific Northwest, was worried a similar phenomenon was going to occur in San Francisco.

“What’s most unfortunate is that all of the media attention goes toward the outbursts, which are actually not representative of very many people,” he said a day after Olmert’s Oct. 22 appearance at the Westin St. Francis.

In actuality, Olmert’s appearance here, and the demonstrations on the street out front, didn’t get much media attention at all.

But Olmert did have much to say during the event. Jane Wales, the president and CEO of the World Affairs Council of Northern California, posed questions to Olmert while both sat in easy chairs on the stage.

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert speaks Oct. 22 at the Westin St. Francis in San Francisco. photo/julie brookman

After the outbursts died down, Olmert was able to make many points during the 90-minute event. Here is some of what he told the crowd of about 360 that assembled in the St. Francis’ Grand Ballroom:

On Iran: Olmert disagreed with those who think that negotiating or military options are the only ways to stop Iran from building a nuclear bomb.

If “Iran does not reach an agreement where we [Israel] are absolutely certain they are not developing a nuclear weapon,” Olmert said, Europeans should stop allowing free and open travel to Iranian businessmen. “Make their lives miserable,” he added, which could lead to internal pressure in Iran to ditch nuclear plans.

In any event, Olmert said in light of recent negotiating sessions, “do not underestimate the Iranians. They will not stop the progress after one meeting or two meetings.”

On George W. Bush: Olmert sang the praises of the Bush administration’s tact on the Middle East and Iran, and he even called Bush his “buddy.” After he praised Bush, however, he added, “I don’t think Barack Obama is any different.”

On Iraq: “The American experience in Iraq must be observed and judged on a broader basis,” he said. “There were many dramatic developments achieved by the removal of Saddam Hussein from power. As former prime minister of Israel, I know what my fellow Middle East leaders felt, and he was a threat to the stability of the Middle East.”

On settlements: Rather than “sending George Mitchell to argue with Bibi Netanyahu about outposts here and there,” President Barack Obama needs to propose a final peace plan and present it to the Palestinians with a demand of “what is your answer?”

On his peace plan: Olmert went into great detail about a generous peace offer, based on 1967 borders, that he devised when he was prime minister from 2006 to earlier this year. However, when he offered it to Mahmoud Abbas, he said the Palestinian Authority president never responded.

“It was the most far-reaching proposal ever made to the Palestinians by a prime minister of Israel,” Olmert said. “You can’t propose more than 1967. When there is peace, there will never be more than what I proposed — so why not sign it?”

On Jerusalem: He envisions Jewish neighborhoods belonging to Israel; Palestinian neighborhoods being part of the Palestinian state; the central part of Jerusalem being a jointly governed capital; and the “Holy Basin” (the Temple Mount, Mount of Olives, Mount Zion and various Christian holy sites) being under the sovereignty of an Israel-Palestinian consortium with three or five other Arab countries.

On Syria: “Peace with Syria can be quite quick, because everyone knows what is on the agenda,” he said. Although there are details to be resolved, it boils down to this: “Israel has to pull out from the Golan Heights … but Syria will have to agree to stop any action which is contrary to the security of Israel. The issues are quite clear.”

On the Gaza War: “It was a very successful war and I’m very happy with the results of this war,” he said. Asked what defines success, he answered, “When the other side is thinking two or three times before it shoots.”

On the Goldstone report: “It was distorted from the start. It’s lacking the basis for what happened in Gaza. Moderate Palestinians used to come to us and say Hamas were killing Fatah people in such a way that Israel never did to us, such as shooting knees to make people handicapped or throwing them out sixth-floor windows. They [the United Nations] didn’t care to inquire about these war crimes of Hamas to Fatah,” he said.

“To come to Israel ignoring the fact that for eight years Israel was attacked almost on a daily basis by rockets and missiles, and to talk only about the reaction of Israel is unfair, is unjust, is unacceptable, is intolerable and Israel will not cooperate with it.”

On his political future: The 64-year-old Olmert didn’t go into detail about his trial on several charges of public corruption, but he did say his family would prefer he remain out of politics.

Ehud Olmert endures deluge of hecklers in S.F. talk

Andy Altman-Ohr

Andy Altman-Ohr was J.’s managing editor and Hardly Strictly Bagels columnist until he retired in 2016 to travel and live abroad. He and his wife have a home base in Mexico, where he continues his dalliance with Jewish journalism.