JERUSALEM, (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said in a newspaper interview published on Thursday that failure to negotiate a two-state solution with the Palestinians could threaten Israel’s long-term survival. “If the day comes when the two-state solution collapses, and we face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights (with Palestinians) … then, as soon as that happens, the State of Israel is finished,” Olmert told the Haaretz daily.
The interview was published the day after Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas met U.S. President George W. Bush in Washington to resume the first formal peace talks in seven years.
That followed Tuesday’s peace conference in Annapolis, Maryland which ended with a pledge to try to forge a peace treaty between Israel and the Palestinians by the end of 2008.
Israel is worried Palestinians could eventually outnumber Jews if it keeps control of all the territory it captured in the 1967 Middle East war.
Olmert said that if Israel failed to agree to a two-state solution and tried to absorb Palestinians into a Jewish state without giving them equal voting rights, influential U.S. Jewish organisations “will be the first to come out against us”. “They will say they cannot support a state that does not support democracy and equal voting rights for all its residents,” he said.
Olmert said that four years ago, when deputy to former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon, he had already stated Israel should withdraw from most of the land captured in 1967. “(People) will say I’m having problems and that’s why I’m trying to do (a peace process), but the facts must be dealt with justly,” Olmert said.
Olmert is due to return to Israel at around midday on Thursday and is expected to hear whether police will recommend indicting him on corruption charges on the sale of one of Israel’s biggest banks when he served as finance minister.
Olmert told Haaretz that “Annapolis is not a historic turning point, but it is a point that can be of assistance.” He added that negotiations with the Palestinians would be “difficult, complex, and will require a very great deal of patience and sophistication.”
Olmert said he would have to do all he could to help Abbas deliver his part of a peace deal. “It is my job to do everything so that he receives the tools, and to reach an understanding on the guidelines for an agreement,” Olmert said. He said that he and Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni would continue to lead Israel’s negotiating team but that “there will also be people acting on my behalf, who will have a very significant role in this process.”
Two polls appearing in Israeli newspapers on Thursday showed that up to half of respondents thought the Annapolis conference was a failure.
The mass circulation Yedioth Ahronoth showed that 50 percent of respondents — the largest single bloc — said Annapolis was a failure, with only 18 percent saying it was a success.
A Haaretz poll said 42 percent of respondents thought Annapolis was a failure.