He also said he had been “hours” from a meeting with the Syrian foreign minister during his tenure, but that the talks were cancelled after Israel embarked on its offensive in the Gaza Strip. Olmert’s remarks came during a conference at Tel Aviv University on Sunday.
During Olmert’s tenure, Turkey mediated five rounds of talks between Israeli and Syrian officials. Toward the end of Olmert’s term the two sides were on the verge of resuming direct negotiations.
At the last meeting between Olmert and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the Turkish leader called Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and relayed messages to and from Olmert. But after Operation Cast Lead began in December 2008 and the freeze in negotiations with Syria, Erdoğan said Olmert had stabbed him in the back. A recent rise in tensions between Turkey and Israel has meanwhile prompted Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, to discount Ankara from serving as mediator in any future diplomatic negotiations with Syria.
“We can reach an understanding with the Syrians which would change the map in the Middle East. A decision on this issue must be made. It’s too easy being angry at Erdoğan, but it would be wise to reconcile with him. He is a fair mediator. We need negotiations with Turkish mediation,” Olmert added.
He also said that during his tenure he offered Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas an unprecedented peace offer, based on a return to the 1967 borders and a fair demographic land arrangement which would see heavily Jewish areas in the West Bank remain under Israeli control. Olmert said he and Abbas had reached an interim agreement on the Palestinian right of return, but he never received a final response from the Palestinians on the matter.
Olmert added that he had “reached the conclusion that in choosing between the greater Israel and a Jewish, democratic state, I prefer the latter,” saying he knew it would be necessary to withdraw from much of the land the Palestinians want for a state.