JERUSALEM—Lame-duck Prime Minister Ehud Olmert raised a lot of eyebrows by saying that in return for peace, Israel will have to give up virtually all the land it conquered in the 1967 Six Day War.
Apparently, there is a certain liberation that comes from having a political career in tatters over allegations of having pocketed envelopes of cash and other corrupt actions.
"What I'm telling you now has never been said by an Israeli leader before me," Olmert told journalists from Yediot Aharonot, the country's largest newspaper, in a lengthy pre-Rosh Hashana interview.
Technically, he's right; no previous Israeli premier ever publicly stated his willingness to sign peace treaties that gave the Palestinians "almost all...if not all" of the West Bank, including Arab East Jerusalem, as well as the entire Golan Heights to Syria.
Yet, dramatic as his remarks sounded, there's probably less to them than meets the eye.
For one thing, Olmert can't make good on his bold words because he has resigned (because of the corruption investigations against him), and will soon be replaced in a government reshuffle or elections.
For another thing, it's not exactly a revelation to say that the price of peace for Israel is all or virtually all of the conquered territories. Israel first offered the Golan Heights to Syria in return for peace in a 1994 message to the United States, and offered nearly all of the West Bank and Arab East Jerusalem to the Palestinians in closed-door negotiations in 2001. Furthermore, the peace talks that the Olmert government is now conducting with the Palestinian Authority and Syria are tacitly understood to require a full-scale Israeli withdrawal if they are to succeed.
What's more, Olmert made it clear that peace doesn't require only Israel to step up; the Palestinians and Syrians have to step up as well, and they are even farther away from the plate than Israel.
"Unfortunately, the Palestinians do not have the courage, strength, determination, will, and urgency required," he said, adding that Syria had yet to accept Israel's demand to distance itself from Iran and Hezbollah.
Olmert's Arab interlocutors sounded unimpressed.
Palestinian negotiators said they still hadn't been given anything in writing, while the Syrians again turned down Israel's offer to negotiate directly instead of through Turkish mediators.
At home, Olmert's powerful right-wing opposition attacked him for "endangering the existence of the state of Israel," in the words of one Knesset member.
Meanwhile, no reaction has come from Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, Olmert's recently elected successor as Kadima party leader who is trying to form a coalition government that would put her in his seat. However, Livni, who heads the peace talks with the Palestinians and supports the negotiations with Syria, is widely assumed to have roughly the same "map" in mind that Olmert described.
On Iran, Olmert didn't explicitly rule out an attack on its nuclear facilities, but implicitly, he did. "The assumption that if America and Russia and China and Britain and Germany don't know how to deal with the Iranians, [but] we Israelis do know, we will deal with it, we will act—this is an example of our loss of a sense of proportion," he said.
Maybe the most eye-opening part of the interview was Olmert's disparagement of Israel's supremely influential military establishment. "With them, it is all about tanks and land and controlling territories and controlled territories and this hilltop and that hilltop," he said. "All these things are worthless."
He told of being briefed once by the country's top security officials and afterward telling them, "When I listen to you, I understand why we haven't made peace in 40 years with the Palestinians and Syrians, and why we won't make peace in another 40 years with the Palestinians and Syrians."
Actually, coming from an Israeli prime minister, that probably does count as a revelation.