Speaking at the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert provided an overview of the security and regional political situation from his standpoint. "Palestine is the Palestinian national home," he said.
The establishment of a Palestinian state, though strongly opposed by many in Israel's security establishment, is something Olmert appears to take for granted - though he said it would not happen soon.
"Israel is the Jewish national home," he said, "while Palestine is the Palestinian national home... [But] I don't believe that we will be able to reach a mutual understanding about Jerusalem this year - though in other areas of the talks, matters are clearer."
Eitam Bemoans "Blindness and Stupidity"
MK Effie Eitam (National Union) said in response, "We must be very concerned at Olmert's words, which are a mix of blindness and stupidity... All the negotiations that we conduct with Syria and the Palestinians simply serve the other side, as a smoke screen for what they are really planning. On all fronts, we have seen our enemies become stronger and firmer in their anti-Israel stance."
"The facts are grave," Eitam said, "and the Olmert government - and Olmert himself - will have to pay for their blindness. It will cost us much blood and it will be very difficult to extract ourselves from this trap."
Olmert Implies: Jerusalem Must be Split
Regarding the recent terrorist attacks in Jerusalem, Olmert had no good news: "There are 270,000 Arabs in the capital, and there is no way to prevent terrorism of this type. We must consider what to do. The terrorist who carried out the Mercaz HaRav slaughter drove 40 yeshiva students to their yeshiva that morning; he could have carried out the attack then. What a catastrophe that could have been. It requires thought."
"Whoever thinks we can live with 270,000 Arabs in Jerusalem must take into account that there will be more bulldozers, more tractors, and more cars carrying out attacks," the Prime Minister said.
It is therefore likely that his preferred choice is, as his friend Vice Premier Chaim Ramon said yesterday, to detach eastern Jerusalem neighborhoods such as Tzur Baher from Jewish Jerusalem. This, despite his years of pledging to keep the capital whole and united when he was Mayor of Jerusalem.
Destroying Terrorists' Homes
"Regarding the option of demolishing terrorists' homes," Olmert said, "I have consulted with the head of the Shabak and we decided that destroying the homes is the right approach. I have spoken with the Attorney General and he said there is nothing preventing such a move. At present, the matter is under legal consideration; if we issue the order, there will be many groups that will object."
Lebanon and Syria
"There is no substantial change in Israel's strategic status," Olmert said, "and the threats upon us have not changed over the past two years. However, we are still holding talks with Syria... I do not foresee an escalation on the northern front, because Hizbullah is busy rebuilding itself after the Second Lebanon War. Hizbullah has certainly not become a peace-seeker, and it is still liable to retaliate against Israel for the liquidation of [top Hizbullah terrorist] Mughniye without regard for who actually is responsible for his death."
Israel has consistently denied involvement in the assassination in March of this year of arch-terrorist Imad Mughniyeh in Damascus, and in fact top Syrians are suspected in engineering it.
Olmert said that Hizbullah chief Hassan Nasrallah has "lost his self-confidence" - he has spent months in hiding, for fear that Israel will target him - and "we are following the situation closely, tracking any change that could violate the existing balance."
The Premier praised the talks with Syria: "These negotiations give the Syrians an option they did not have before. I have heard about elements in Israel that are trying to form informal contacts with the Syrians, but I hope they will not do so; the contacts must be done openly in genuine negotiations."
He acknowledged that many Israelis do not trust Syria "because of the past. We must remember that there are still Syrian contacts with Iran and Syrian aid to Hizbullah and terrorist groups; Syria is walking on two different paths at the same time. The Syrians will have to understand that you can't fool everyone all the time. They will have to make their choice, and we will have to give them this challenge. There is no need for an ultimatum; rather, Syria must make a real choice to leave the axis of evil by forming ties with the West."