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Published: Saturday, 10/4/2008

Olmert speaks

AS ISRAEL goes through a political twilight zone with resigned Prime Minister Ehud Olmert still in charge and Kadima party leader Tzipi Livni trying to form a new government, Mr. Olmert has made some unusual comments on the direction the country should take.

In a newspaper interview Monday, he said that Israel, to assure its "basic security," should withdraw its forces and thousands of settlers from nearly all of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. A solution would be devised to protect the Jewish holy sites. He said that if Israel held onto any land in these areas, it should compensate Palestinians with land elsewhere.

Mr. Olmert also addressed the questions of Israel's relations with Syria and Iran. He said the Golan Heights, taken from Syria in 1967, should be returned. For its part, Syria would have to change its policies of support for Hezbollah in Lebanon, for Hamas and Islamic Jihad in the Palestinian territories, and for cooperation with Iran.

He said any thoughts that Israel should attack Iran to destroy its nuclear program constituted "delusions of grandeur" and "megalomania." The future of Iran's nuclear program was a question for the international community, not Israel, he said.

Mr. Olmert expressed these opinions at the end of a 35-year political career. Some critics feel it's an attempt to revive his career, but that is unrealistic, given Mr. Olmert's fall not only over charges of corruption but also for having failed in Israel's 2006 war in Lebanon.He said he is now asking Israelis to "look reality in the eye." His position, if put forth by Israel in renewed peace negotiations, would put the onus on the Palestinians to respond positively. Mr. Olmert did not address the fact that the Palestinians are divided sharply and that such negotiations still have a distance to go. At the same time, what he said is remarkable, as well as the fact that he said it.

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