Israel must withdraw from occupied areas: Olmert

September 29th, 2008 - 7:43 pm ICT by IANS  

Tel Aviv, Sep 29 (DPA) Israel will have to withdraw from the occupied territories, including East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, if it wanted peace with its Arab and Palestinian neighbours, outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said in remarks published Monday.”We need to reach an agreement with the Palestinians, in which the significance is a withdrawal from almost all the (occupied) territories, if not from all the territories,” he told the Yediot Ahronot daily in an interview marking the Jewish new year beginning Monday night and his own impending departure from office.

“We will retain a percentage of these territories,” he added, “but we will have to give the Palestinians a similar percentage (of our territory) because without this there will be no peace”, he added.

“I tell you today, in the end we have an opportunity that is limited in time … 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 for 40 years we have been refusing to look at open-eyed,” Olmert said.

Olmert, a former mayor of Jerusalem who was then known for his maximalist views regarding Israeli sovereignty over the entire city, said the Israeli withdrawal would also have to include East Jerusalem.

He made it clear, however, that any Israeli withdrawal would have to include “special solutions that I envisage regarding the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif (compound) and the historic holy places”.

The Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount compound is perhaps the most emotional issue in negotiations over East Jerusalem, which in itself possibly is the most sensitive of all topics involved in the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

“Whoever wants to hold on to the entire area of the city will have to include 270,000 Arabs in Israeli sovereignty. It won’t work. We have to decide,” outgoing Prime Minister Olmert said.

Palestinians demand that Israel withdraw from all the territory it claimed from Jordan and Egypt in the 1967 Middle East War in order to allow the establishment of a Palestinian state.

Although Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005, it is still controlling the salient’s borders, airspace and sea lanes.

Additionally, Israel has always claimed that East Jerusalem - also occupied in the 1967 war and containing sites holy to Judaism, Islam and Christianity - was part of an undivided Jerusalem, which is called the “eternal” capital of the Jewish state.

Palestinians, however, also want East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.

The Israeli army captured the Golan Heights from Syria in the closing days of the 1967 war. Syria demands the return of the strategic plateau overlooking all of northern Israel as a prerequisite for any possible peace agreement with the Jewish state.

Olmert said he was not “proposing to make peace with Syria while only giving up the Golan Heights. The Syrians know fully 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 Hamas terrorism, Al Qaeda terrorism and the jihad in Iraq,” he insisted.

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