Olmert sees South African fate for Israel

December 1, 2007 - 0:0

BEIT-UL-MOQADDAS (AP) -- In unusually frank comments, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert warned in an interview published Thursday that “the state of Israel is finished” if a Palestinian state is not created, saying the alternative was a South African-style apartheid struggle.

The explosive reference to apartheid came as Olmert returned from the high-profile peace conference in Annapolis, Md., hoping to prepare a skeptical nation for difficult negotiations with the Palestinians.
While Olmert has long said the region’s demography was working against Israel, the comments published in the daily Haaretz were among his strongest. Israeli officials have long rejected any comparison to the racist system once in place in South Africa.
Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas agreed at Annapolis to resume peace talks after a seven-year freeze. The two leaders pledged efforts to reach an agreement on the creation of a Palestinian state by the end of next year.
In the interview, Olmert said it was a vital Israeli interest to create a Palestinian state, due to the growing Arab population in the area.
“The day will come when the two-state solution collapses, and we face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights,” Olmert said. “As soon as that happens, the state of Israel is finished.”
The interview was published on the 60th anniversary of the UN decision to partition Palestine, setting up separate Jewish and Arab states. The vote led to a war, and the Palestinian state was not created.
Palestinians want to form their state in the Gaza Strip, West Bank and East Jerusalem -- areas Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast War.
Jews constitute roughly 80 percent of Israel’s population of seven million. However, if the West Bank and Gaza are included, Arabs make up nearly half the population.
To ensure that Israel can maintain a solid Jewish majority, Olmert supports a withdrawal from much of the West Bank and parts of East Beit-ul-Moqaddas (East Jerusalem), following Israel’s pullout from Gaza in 2005.
Israel’s 1.5 million Arab citizens have the right to vote, but the estimated 3.9 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza do not have Israeli citizenship or rights.
Olmert, a hard-liner earlier in his career, in recent years has repeatedly warned that Israel cannot remain both Jewish and democratic if it holds on to the West Bank and Gaza. He had never used the South African analogy in public, though officials say he recently made the same argument in a closed meeting with lawmakers.
In another development, Moscow has offered to host a follow-up to the Annapolis peace conference. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the idea “received support” during this week’s summit, but he stopped short of saying it was definite. He said the timing was not yet clear.
An official with the European Commission said a Moscow meeting “could happen as early as February.” The official spoke in Israel on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the subject.