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Olmert Says Israel Must Withdraw From 'Almost All' of Occupied Territories


Outgoing Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert says Israel will have to give up virtually all of the land it captured in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War if it wants peace with the Palestinians. Mr. Olmert, now serving as interim prime minister, made his remarks in a farewell interview with Israel newspaper Yediot Aharonot published Monday. VOA Jerusalem correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Ehud Olmert's remarks come after he resigned on September 21 in the face of corruption allegations. He is serving as a caretaker and remains involved in U.S.-brokered negotiations launched almost a year ago.

In the interview published on the eve of the Jewish New Year celebrations on Monday, Mr. Olmert said he was stating what no previous Israeli leader has ever said, which is that Israel should withdraw from almost all of the territories, including East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. Without this, he said, there will be no peace.

Mr. Olmert's spokesman, Mark Regev, tells VOA the outgoing prime minister has been saying these things privately in his meetings with the Palestinians and mediators over the last month.

"Maybe this is the first time he has said this publicly but I can assure you that his Palestinian negotiations partners have heard this before, as have the Americans and the Europeans," he said. "Ultimately, we want a historic reconciliation with the Palestinians. We understand that that will come at the price of difficult decisions on our side."

Regev said Israel expects the Palestinians to make equally difficult decisions.

"In the interview, Mr. Olmert says very clearly that this cannot be done by Israel alone, that the Palestinians also will have to make tough choices," he said. "If both sides continue these talks with seriousness and the willingness to make difficult decisions to make historical choices, an agreement is still possible."

The White House wants to see an agreement by the time U.S. President George Bush leaves office in January. Olmert's political troubles, elections in the United States, and deep divisions within the Palestinian Authority have raised doubts about whether any of the sides has a mandate to follow through with an agreement.

The talks have been stuck on key issues of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, the status of Jerusalem, and the Palestinian families' claim of a right to return to lands seized by Israel following the establishment of the Jewish state in 1948.

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