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ISRAEL - Sept 29 - Olmert Calls For Return Of 'Almost All' Territory.

Outgoing PM Ehud Olmert says Israel should withdraw from "almost all" the land it conquered more than 40 years ago and hand back east Jerusalem to the Palestinians and the Golan Heights to Syria. His comments marked the clearest plea yet by a sitting Israeli PM for the country to abandon territory that is seen by many Israelis as both strategically and spiritually vital. More than 450,000 Jewish settlers live in the occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem, and a further 20,000 in the Golan Heights. Most are vehemently opposed to abandoning their settlements, which are illegal under international law. Successive Israeli governments - including Olmert's - have not only been reluctant to uproot the settlers, but have allowed their numbers to grow and the settlements to expand. In an interview published on Sept 29, Olmert, who resigned from office last week but remains caretaker PM until a new government is formed, argued in Yedioth Ahronoth, Israel's biggest newspaper, that the country had little time to lose. "In the end we have an opportunity that is limited in time - a time so short as to cause terrible distress - 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". He added: We have to reach an agreement with the Palestinians, the meaning of which is that in practice we will withdraw from almost all the territories, if not all the territories. We will leave a percentage of these territories in our hands, but will have to give the Palestinians a similar percentage, because without that there will be no peace". Although Olmert is now a lame-duck PM, he could still have until early next year to pull off a deal with the Palestinian leadership and the Syrian government. While most analysts believe that unlikely, his remarks may be designed to prepare the Israeli public for a possible peace agreement under his successor. Olmert said a deal would have to include handing back east Jerusalem, which Israel annexed after the 1967 war. "Whoever wants to hold on to all of the city's territory will have to bring 270,000 Arabs [living in occupied east Jerusalem] inside the fences of sovereign Israel. It won't work". Handing back the Golan Heights - the price that Syria is demanding in exchange for a peace deal - would entail risks, he conceded. But he added: Whoever wants to operate with zero risks should move to Switzerland or Iceland". His comments met fierce criticism from both the political left and right. Avigdor Lieberman, leader of the rightwing Yisrael Beiteinu party, denounced the PM's comments as "insanity". He told Israel's army radio: I think that someone who today talks about withdrawal to the 1967 borders is bringing on war". Leftwing politicians criticised Olmert for speaking his mind at a time when he had lost the power and credibility to make the territorial concessions he talked about.

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Title Annotation:Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert
Publication:APS Diplomat Recorder
Geographic Code:7ISRA
Date:Oct 4, 2008
Words:493
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