NEW YORK (JTA) — Speaking at Columbia Law School, former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert called the Likud an “extreme right-wing party” and suggested that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should have better relations with the White House.
During his talk Wednesday night, Olmert went out of his way to praise President Obama, saying he has been and will continue to be a great friend of Israel. Olmert defended Obama’s call for an Israeli-Palestinian deal based on the 1967 borders with land swaps, saying that President George W. Bush endorsed the same policy.
“I don’t know why when President Obama said the same thing he became an enemy,” Olmert said.
Olmert praised Bush and said that Israel benefitted from the warm relations between the two of them. He then lamented the lack of a similar dynamic between Obama and Netanyahu, Olmert’s successor and political rival. Olmert did not explicitly blame Netanyahu for his sometimes chilly relationship with Obama, but in the context of his overall presentation Olmert seemed to be faulting the prime minister or those in his camp.
Referring to Netanyahu’s decision to join forces with Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman in the Knesset elections scheduled for Jan. 22, Olmert blasted the Likud as an “extreme right-wing party.”
Olmert once was a leading member of the Likud, but left the party with then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to form Kadima. After Sharon fell into a coma, Olmert took over as prime minister before a series of legal scandals forced him to step down.
Olmert, who ultimately was acquitted, is rumored to be preparing for a return to the political fray. He declined to share his plans for the coming campaign, but promised that he would make an announcement in a few days following his return to Israel.
Olmert predicted that the January elections would determine whether Israel would move forward with efforts to reach a peace deal with the Palestinians and warned that the failure to do so ultimately would make it impossible for Israel to continue as a Jewish and democratic state.