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Olmert to Obama: Settlements focus counterproductive

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Ehud Olmert called on the Obama administration to focus more on the Palestinian rejection of his peace offer than on settlement building.

The former Israeli prime minister, writing Friday in the Washington Post, acknowledged that Israel had not lived up to obligations it had pledged to the Bush administration to control settlement expansion.

However, Olmert affirmed claims by the government of Benjamin Netanyahu, his successor this year as prime prime minister, that there were understandings between the United States and Israel that Israel could not totally freeze settlement building.

"The insistence now on a complete freeze on settlement construction — impossible to completely enforce — will not promote Palestinian efforts to enhance security measures; the institution building that is so crucial for the development of a Palestinian state; better movement and access to the Palestinians; nor an improved economy in the West Bank," Olmert wrote. "Nor will it weaken the Hamas government in Gaza. It will not bring greater security to Israel, help improve Israel’s relations with the Arab world, strengthen a coalition of moderate Arab states or shift the strategic balance in the Middle East."

More critical to understanding why the peace process is stalled, he said, is to examine why the moderate Palestinian Authority leadership last year rejected what Olmert has said was an offer that would have included a 100 percent equivalent of lands Israel captured in the 1967 Six-Day War, a sharing of Jerusalem and a symbolic recognition of Palestinian refugee claims.

"It would be worth exploring the reasons that the Palestinians rejected my offer and preferred, instead, to drag their feet, avoiding real decisions," Olmert wrote. "My proposal would have helped realize the ‘two-state solution’ in accordance with the principles of the U.S. administration, the Israeli government I led and the criteria the Palestinian leadership has followed throughout the years."

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