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Ehud Olmert passes leadership of the Kadima Party to Tzipi Livni and
leaves a challenging legacy. In comments he made during an interview
with Israeli newspaper Yediot Ahronot, Olmert admits Israel must
withdraw from areas of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and even the
Golan Heights, an area at the center of the Israeli-Syrian dispute.

Story Transcript

Olmert admits Israel must withdraw

VOICE OF LIA TARACHANSKY, JOURNALIST: On September 29, 2008, before passing the throne as leader of the Kadima Party to Tzipi Livni, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert made unprecedented comments in an interview with Yediot Aharonot. He stated, “[I am saying] what no Israeli leader has ever said: we should withdraw from almost all of the territories, including in East Jerusalem and in the Golan Heights.” (September 29, 2008.) This change in attitude came as a surprise, as during his time in office, Israeli settlements within the West Bank increased by over 4,000 new homes. Though Olmert is expected to resign around mid-October, his comments will force the new government to address the seemingly new direction within Israeli leadership. Tzipi Livni, described by the government as more dovish than many in her party, has already postponed dealing with East Jerusalem to an unknown date. To understand the significance of Olmert’s statements, The Real News Network spoke to Jesse Rosenfeld, a freelance journalist based in Ramallah for the past year.


TARACHANSKY: You’ve just started working on a book looking at the segmentation of the Israeli state and Israeli occupied territories. Can you tell us a little bit about your experiences in Ramallah for the past year?

JESSE ROSENFELD, FREELANCE JOURNALIST, RAMALLAH: Israel is organized through a structure of borders and bubbles. And what that means is that Israel defines the borders within the territory between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, you know, it defines borders through tools like the wall, through tools the checkpoints, as a way of cutting off Palestinians from each other, as well as attraction with Israeli Jews, or also the wall around Gaza that’s been sealing that end too. And what I mean by “bubbles” is that it’s doing this for the purpose of creating ethnically exclusive bubbles or ethnically dominant bubbles for Israeli Jews, places like Tel Aviv, or places like settlements, places that live off the privilege of an occupation and a racially segregated system, without actually having to see what the costs of it are or see what realities are looking like. I think Olmert’s comments actually directly fit in within that process of what Israel’s trying to do. It’s a system of apartheid that is based on trying not to see Palestinians, trying to see land and space as Jewishly exclusive. And within Olmert’s comments, what we saw was not really a change materially from what his actions have been in the past, or what the positions of past Israeli governments are. He talked about a Palestinian state within most of the West Bank, and he talks about areas of East Jerusalem; he’s not talking about real estate along ’67 lines. And where he talks about land swap, what he’s essentially hinting at is giving unwanted Israeli patches of desert for Palestinian-populated areas of East Jerusalem, especially areas around East Jerusalem settlements. The reason it fits into that borders-and-bubbles model is because what Olmert is trying to do is he’s trying to come to a solution that essentially keeps as many Palestinians out of Israeli site as possible while they maximize on the amount of land that they’re holding for Israeli-Jewish exclusive use. What’s possibly new is the fact that he’s really actually substantively addressing the Golan Heights, and this has to do with indirect negotiations going on with Syria at this point. As far as his statements of “I’m saying things that no other leader has said before,” Barak described himself as making huge concessions and a huge compromise for Israel. I mean, this is typical of Israeli prime ministers and Israeli political leaders that they want to position themselves as Israel making really tough compromises while what they’re actually doing is enacting policies that are securing and legitimizing their most profiting aspects of occupation. What we’re seeing different in Olmert now is that he has, you know, what many pundits call, you know, a sort of dovish approach; or what really in the Israeli political discourse [he] is doing is that he’s taken up the position or the speaking tones of the Labor Party, where you focus on how much Israel is giving, the fact that they are looking for a solution when the reality on the ground completely contradicts that.

TARACHANSKY: Olmert’s talking about giving East Jerusalem to Palestinian control, and this will be the first time that East Jerusalem will actually be under Palestinian control�not Jordanian, not Turkish. So what ramifications do you think that has on the ground?

ROSENFELD: Well, he’s not talking about holistic East Jerusalem; what he’s talking about is he’s talking about parts of East Jerusalem. Now, East Jerusalem overwhelmingly is, you know, a major, major Palestinian center. And I think what he’s getting at when he’s talking about parts of East Jerusalem is that he wants to deflect the responsibility of control from Israel onto the PA in areas that Israel doesn’t have a direct interest in controlling or settling. And that’s directly what Olmert is getting at with East Jerusalem. The reality about, you know, running for the job of president of the United States is that what any American president will be interested in is preserving Israel as a Jewishly dominated, Jewishly exclusive state, as Israel defines itself for the purpose of the US’s own foreign policy interests within the Middle East. And so, regardless of whether that means some kind of a two-state-esque solution or the continuing maintenance of an occupation, those will be policy decisions that an American administration will take, but ultimately what they’re looking for is a state that will stay militarized to protect and advance America’s interests within the region.


Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

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Jesse Rosenfeld is the editor of The Daily Nuisance. He is based in Tel Aviv - Jaffa and Ramallah since 2007, where he's written for The Guardian online, The National, Haaretz English and The Washington Report on Middle East Affiars.