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Olmert gives final G.A. address as PM

Peace with Israel’s neighbors is “within reach,” Ehud Olmert said in what was most likely his final official speech before a major North American audience.

Olmert, speaking Sunday night at the opening plenary of the United Jewish Communities’ General Assembly in Jerusalem, said he will continue to push for peace with the Palestinians and Syria in his remaining days as prime minister. Israel holds general elections Feb. 10.

“Peace with our neighbors we leave to our children,” he said. “It is within reach.”

Before 3,000 to 4,000 lay and professional leaders of the North American Jewish federation system gathered at the International Convention Center, Olmert lauded some of his accomplishments as prime minister and stressed the importance of a positive relationship between Israel and the Diaspora

He spoke highly of the Jewish Agency for Israel’s MASA initiative, which provides scholarships to young American adults who participate in long-term programs in Israel — an endeavor of his predecessor Ariel Sharon that grew during Olmert’s term. And he encouraged the audience members to lobby their home governments to press Iran to cease its pursuit of nuclear weapons.

“It must become more costly for Iran to pursue nuclear weapons than it is to give it up,” said Olmert, who is leaving office under intense scrutiny over allegations of financial improprieties.

He also praised two officials of the federation system’s international arms who are rumored to be running for office as members of Olmert’s Kadima Party — Jewish Agency Chairman Ze’ev Bielski and the director of UJC’s Israel office, Nachman Shai.

The General Assembly ends Nov. 19.

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