Illustration by Paul Ryding

How the conflict ends

Nine months of war between Israel and Hamas have devastated Gaza, and a ceasefire and hostage release deal have yet to be agreed. With the bloodshed unrelenting, and the northern border with Lebanon on fire, too, Prospect invited a former Israeli prime minister and a former Palestinian foreign affairs minister to discuss what happens once the fighting is over

Alona Ferber, senior editor: Dr Nasser Alkidwa, you were Palestinian foreign affairs minister from 2005 to 2006. Before then you were a permanent observer at the UN. Ehud Olmert, your career spanned local and national politics before you became prime minister of Israel from 2006 to 2009. Did you ever work with each other directly?

Nasser Alkidwa: No, not all.

Ehud Olmert: Never. 

Ferber: You overlapped in government at a very different time in the Israeli- Palestinian conflict. How does it compare now, to back then?

Alkidwa: I’ll take the easy questions, leaving the difficult ones for Olmert. In retrospect, I can see things maybe in a more clear way. Unfortunately, [Palestinian president] Mahmoud Abbas is accustomed to doing everything alone, basically. Just to give you an example, when we signed the 2013 agreement with Jordan on the custodianship of the holy places in Jerusalem, not a single person in the Palestinian leadership knew that this was happening. You cannot lead single-handedly, because that is what caused all these problems for the Palestinian people.

Ferber: Mr Olmert, how would you answer this question?

Olmert: In 2006, we had administrations that were equally interested in negotiations from day one. I met with President Abbas a few times before, mostly in my role as deputy prime minister to Ariel Sharon. I met him also individually a couple of times. But from day one, I made it clear that I was interested in negotiations. I didn’t have any position to determine who will represent the Palestinians. From my side, I had the then deputy prime minister and minister of foreign affairs Tzipi Livni, who I appointed to be the chair of the negotiating committee, and President Abbas appointed Mr Abu Alaa [also known as Ahmed Qurei] to be the chair from the Palestinian side. We started many of the meetings having lunch at the official residence of Israel’s prime minister. Subsequently, I would go with the president to the study, just him and me. We used to sit for hours. 

But fundamentally, the main point was that it was obvious, open, formal, publicised that we meet, that we negotiate. I don’t think there was any outside pressure whatsoever to try and influence any of the sides to want to negotiate. We made it very clear from the beginning, this is our main goal.

Ferber: And now this isn’t the case?

Olmert: Wherever I speak and whenever I speak, I say what I think about my prime minister and my government, and particularly the lack of any desire to negotiate with the Palestinian Authority (PA). I blame Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, for promoting and building the status of Hamas as the primary body of the Palestinians, precisely in order to avoid any direct contact with the PA. Equally—look, I will never say anything not respectful of the Palestinian president, but I was deeply disappointed at the time that Abbas didn’t subscribe to what was obvious that he should [Olmert proposed a peace deal to Abbas in 2008] and that, even since then—again, I don’t want to enter into internal Palestinian issues, they can say whatever they want about their leadership, I think I have to be respectful—but I haven’t seen any particular desire to engage in a serious effort to change things, in their own affairs and vis-à-vis the state of Israel. 

The one thing for which I do have to give credit is that the PA security forces are cooperating with Israeli security forces in battling terror, which is very important. In the event that the war in Gaza will end immediately and that Israel will pull out completely from Gaza— which I think both Dr Alkidwa and I want—we expect to have a Palestinian force of some sort, Palestinian together with moderate Arab countries, that will take over Gaza, and will actively cooperate with Israel in fighting against any possible terrorist groups that may try to re-emerge. The precedent that we have in the West Bank is, generally speaking, positive. 

Ferber: You mentioned something that you and Dr Alkidwa agree on. We are speaking on 8th June, and the war is not yet over. What else do you agree and disagree on when it comes to the day after this war ends?

Alkidwa: I think we agree on the most important thing, and that is appreciated from my side. We probably have some disagreement on the methods—how to achieve those aims, what kind of role we can play now that we are both outside of the decision-making process, and things like that, which is important. My understanding is that, at this stage, our agreement is not really that important. Maybe it’s better to wait until it becomes important, and it becomes part of an official negotiation, which is the main thing.

So, again, more or less we agree on the visions. We agree on the possibility of having two states as the way forward, which is the main thing, because some people have hallucinations and present things as if there are other solutions. I think we can agree that there are no other solutions. Dividing the land is the way forward. Having two states, Israel and Palestine, living in peace and security side by side, is the way forward. Now, I think Mr Olmert during his tenure went a step further and tried to get into details including the map of the exact borders, and came up with the idea of having a land swap of territory in Israel and the West Bank. That would make this not only a theoretical idea that’s acceptable, but a theoretical idea that’s also practical, that can make this happen.

Secondly, I think we generally agree on what should happen in Gaza. We agree that the war should stop, these atrocities should stop. We agree that there should be a release of all Israeli hostages in a reasonable exchange deal, related to hostages and Palestinian prisoners. We also agree that there is a need for Israeli withdrawal from Gaza without return. And let me underline the importance of “without return”, not only from a political point of view, but also from a practical point of view. Because, honestly, Gaza is totally destroyed. If you want to rebuild Gaza, you cannot do that while the Israeli army is controlling the borders and checking things and allowing some shipments to get in, but not allowing others. You need a degree of freedom that would allow you to really put serious effort into rebuilding. Now, I’m not trying to put any words in the mouth of Mr Olmert, I don’t know whether we agree on this or not, but at least we agree on the concept, the idea of Israeli withdrawal, which would allow a new situation to develop in the right direction. 

I think we also agree on the necessity of having a Palestinian entity, without the direct participation of Hamas—I might add without the direct participation of any of the political factions who have to undergo some new transformation relevant to the current situation, and based on the experience we gained in the previous years. Frankly, the Palestinian people need to see new thinking, new leadership, new determination, new things.

Olmert: I blame Israel’s prime minister for building the status of Hamas as the primary body of the Palestinians

So we need to have this entity that is empowered. We need to have it organically linked to the PA to ensure the unity of the Palestinian land and people. But we need to have a different entity to what exists now in Ramallah. We need to have more competence. We need to have an entity that is devoid of corruption. We need to have an entity that is acceptable to the street, that is acceptable to all factions, to all streams of the Palestinians. This political entity needs to enjoy the trust of donors. And it needs to be efficient, to be able to do the job, which is very hard. To rebuild that place from scratch is going to be a monumental job. 

Now, we add to all that the existence of a temporary security presence, and here, maybe the details are still shaky and we don’t know exactly what could be acceptable to both. But in general, a temporary security presence—and I’m saying temporary because, in reality, the Palestinian people in Gaza after all this will not accept foreigners governing them; they might accept Arabs to cooperate with the Palestinian security force which needs to be established—requires two things. One, commitment by the Israeli side to withdraw from Gaza, and two, an Israeli commitment to a political solution in the form of the two states, with mutual recognition. 

So if we, Mr Olmert and I, agree on these two points, then there should be a possibility of such an Arab security presence to be built, to cooperate with the Palestinian side, and to help provide the necessary support. I don’t have any problem with any kind of support from international players, but I do have serious doubts about the possibility of this transforming into a governing entity. Some people who get money from the American government are coming up with these crazy ideas, that we want to send a multinational force. I don’t know to do what—you’re going to send a Finnish general to be in Jabaliya? I like Finns, they’re very decent people, but they have nothing to do with Jabaliya. You have to respond to the national needs of the Palestinian people, and you have to respect the necessities of the security consideration by Israel and the demands of the international community with regard to transparency and efficiency. 

Ferber: Is there anything you would add to that assessment, Mr Olmert?

Olmert: It’s quite obvious that I think Israel will have to pull out completely from Gaza. Gaza is not part of Israel. We disengaged from Gaza in 2005 and withdrew our military presence as well as our townships—21 of them—completely outside of the territory, and I think that we will have to do it at the end of this war. The precondition for Israel to withdraw completely from Gaza first of all is an agreement to return all hostages. I prefer that all the remaining some 120 hostages, alive and dead, should be returned in one step. This is the most important objective that we have. 

I don’t speak for the government, as Dr Alkidwa said he does not speak for his government. But as I said, we have to stop the war now, reach an agreement now, and commit ourselves to withdrawing completely from Gaza. Of course, Israel will not withdraw—and I will not support an Israeli withdrawal—without the presence of an effective security force that will prevent the return of terrorism. We don’t want to finish the war only to restart it a couple of weeks or months later. The question is whether the Palestinians, together with Arab countries, are capable of building up a security force that will be effective. This is for the Palestinian side to do. I don’t want to go into all the aspects of what are political parties, and so on. Hamas is not a political party. Hamas is a terrorist organisation, the worst enemy of the Palestinians, not just of the Israelis. Had they not started events on 7th October, there wouldn’t have been a destruction of Gaza. 

Alkidwa: I think we can agree that there are no other solutions. Dividing the land is the way forward

So, number one, there has to be an effective security force— preferably Palestinian, with the assistance of moderate Arab countries, which are acceptable to the Palestinians. If they are not yet ready—and I have listened carefully to what Dr Alkidwa said about the efficiency of the PA, the corruption and so on and so forth—they may not necessarily be ready when we want to stop the war and pull out. So there may have to be a temporary international force. I understand what Dr Alkidwa says about why would a general from Finland come to take over for a period of time, or Swedish, or Danish or Dutch, or French or whatever. But we established a similar arrangement in the south of Lebanon, which was quite effective, at least for as long as I was prime minister. 

So this is a strategy about which we have an identical vision: Gaza is Palestinian, it has to be controlled by Palestinians, there should be a political entity that will administer and that will work together with many countries to rebuild Gaza from the total, terrible destruction which it has been going through since October. Now I say in all of my public statements that of course we have to also offer a political horizon. The only political horizon that I am aware of that is at all possible is a two-state solution. That’s what I proposed to the Palestinian president in 2008 and 2009. I proposed a comprehensive solution on the basis of two states, with a Palestinian state on 1967 borders, with minor [territorial] changes both ways. By the way, Dr Alkidwa, I can’t take credit for the idea of land swaps. The idea was raised first by President Bush, in his famous letter to Sharon on 14th April 2004, and I entirely subscribed to it. 

We agree on these two basic principles, now how the implementation will be—this requires negotiation. Finally, I just want to say one thing. Dr Alkidwa and I, we agree on the basic principles. And I’m sure that had we negotiated on behalf of our respective countries there may have been disagreements and we would have had to find the solution for them. But, of course, we are not negotiating. I have no problem spelling everything out. I think that the fear that Dr Alkidwa has of how his discourse with me appears is not because he is not in any formal position now, but because of the chance that he will be in a formal position soon. And he doesn’t want to be bound by what he has already agreed. 

Alkidwa: This is a mysterious accusation. For the sake of your readers, and for the sake of Mr Olmert, let me begin with a specific proposal regarding the future of Gaza: the establishment of a council of commissioners. Not a council of ministers, because we have one, unfortunately, that is ineffective. The head of this council will be appointed by Mr Abbas through a decree, but in a way that does not make him really under the mercy of Mr Abbas. And then the head of the Council will appoint the rest of the commissioners for a period of time until the life of the Palestinians in Gaza starts stabilising. Then we will go—within 24 to 36 months—to general elections, which is the real democratic solution for all the Palestinian problems. This way, we can ensure unity and that this is not some kind of renegade body. This group can start working immediately. They should meet three criteria: a high degree of acceptability and efficiency, to gain the trust of the donors and the region, as well as the international community, and they can work on the formation of a security force from day one. 

Ferber: Who should pay for rebuilding Gaza? Should Israel contribute?

Alkidwa: There should be a conference of donors to discuss this. It’s reasonable to assume that all wealthy countries should contribute. Of course, wealthy Arab countries will be prominent in this regard, but I’m not in favour of the idea that Arab states would pay for it. Americans have to pay. Europeans have to pay. And Israel, yes, has to pay, although it’s not wealthy, but it’s responsible for what we have been through, one way or another. Maybe that will come with a specific proposal that does not involve cash, but involves something else, but I think they should interpret the responsibility for what happened into positive actions that help everybody to overcome the experience and try a new chapter in our life. 

Alkidwa: Israelis have the right to expect respect for security but they don’t have the right, if they don’t like what they get, to take it by force

Listen, Mr Olmert is a very decent man, and I think he also has very good, positive ideas on how to get out of this mess. I support these ideas and I’m not scared of showing cooperation or anything of that sort. But we also need to understand that we are different. That’s not bad, but we are the product of years of experience. So, you will find difference in terminology, and you will find nuances here and there. When Mr Olmert says, for instance, communities or “townships” when describing settlements in Gaza, that bothers me, but I understand it, because there is a meaning for the terms. 

On the settlements in Gaza, believe it or not, there were maximum 8,000 Israeli settlers in Gaza, controlling one third of the territory. The rest, two-thirds, was for 1.3m Palestinians [this was the size of Gaza’s Palestinian population at the time]. I can speak of how this gravely violated international law and things like that, but one has to be sick to do something like that. To give one third of the poorest territory in the world to 8,000 settlers at the expense of two million? How can one do that? So that is why I feel a bit annoyed when I hear that, but I understand it because again we are the product of two societies, two nations, two cultures, two educations—it takes time to start getting rid of all these things. I hope that we’ll reach a point whereby the Israelis will understand that they have the right to expect things. They have the right to expect respect for security but they don’t have the right, if they don’t like what they get, to take it by force. We are not there yet. It’s not easy to achieve, and I understand that many good Israelis are not at that point yet. Fine, but maybe what’s happening now will help in expediting the process. 

Olmert: I’m afraid that Dr Alkidwa forgot for a second that Israel pulled out completely from Gaza 19 years ago.

Alkidwa: No, you didn’t. It was not a withdrawal, it was redeployment, because Israel continued to control the airspace, the sea, the borders, everything —and impose a siege. What kind of withdrawal was this?

Olmert: Please let me finish, Dr Alkidwa. I listened patiently and carefully. 

Alkidwa: Go on. 

Olmert: Israel pulled out completely from Gaza, and all the 8,000 Israelis—in very intense confrontations inside Israel—we pulled them out into an international border line, which was accepted by everyone, including the international community, the United Nations. That’s number one. Number two, on day one, there were attacks by terrorist organisations from Gaza into the state of Israel, into areas which are not, can’t be claimed, were never claimed to be, part of a Palestinian territory. Number three, the current Gaza war started with major destruction in townships inside Israel, not to speak of the years of shooting at Beer Sheva, at Ashkelon, and other places. Israel under my leadership waged a military operation in Gaza, Operation Cast Lead, because we were day in, day out attacked by rockets across the border into civilian places. 

Gaza has to be rebuilt and Israel also has to be rebuilt. More than 100,000 Israelis have had to leave their homes, and they haven’t lived in their homes for months already. This is a huge cost for the economy. Some 80,000 Israelis left their homes in the north. And many townships in the north were attacked, not by Palestinians, but by Hezbollah, which is part of this conflict. And they have to be restored and rebuilt and rehabilitated, which will cost Israel’s economy. I think that we will handle the rehabilitation of the Israeli part, and the Palestinians, together with friends and the international community, will handle the rehabilitation of Gaza. If there will have to be all kinds of arrangements and cooperation to facilitate this process, I’m sure Israel will be willing to take part. There is no question about that, but to blame the destruction on one side—and we know completely what has happened in our side, the total, terrible destruction of many settlements that are purely Israeli, not occupying any territory of the Palestinians—is not to present a picture as it should be presented.

Ferber: Like Dr Alkidwa said, you come from very different places, you’ll disagree over the facts. When you talk about two states, I wanted to ask you how, given the trauma of the past months, not to mention decades of conflict, Israelis and Palestinians can overcome that and move to something like a negotiation? 

Olmert: We have to overcome traumas, there is no question about it. 

Ferber: But how?

Olmert: It requires a different leadership. Dr Alkidwa said at the beginning that the Palestinians need to have a different kind of leadership in Ramallah. And we have to change our leadership. Israel’s leadership is not willing to engage in any serious effort to compromise politically with the Palestinians. They are tied up in a partnership with the messianic, extremist, right-wing groups in Israel. We have to get rid of both the prime minister and his partners. The Palestinians will have to fight against the terrorists, Islamic Jihad and Hamas and all the other extremist groups on their side. In this recent period that we are fighting with Hamas, you never heard any of Hamas’s spokesmen say that Israel doesn’t want to make peace with us. Why? Because they don’t want to make peace with Israel. It’s not a matter of a dispute with Hamas that if Israel would have accommodated them one way or another, that would have changed their attitude. Hamas is based on the concept of the total destruction of Israel, and therefore they don’t want peace, they don’t want to compromise. They are the enemies of the Palestinians just as much as they are our enemies. 

Olmert: Israel’s current leadership is not willing to engage in any serious effort to compromise politically with the Palestinians

Ferber: I asked about the trauma—and Dr Alkidwa, I want to hear what you think as well—because there have been various agreements and negotiations in the history of this conflict, but you need to bring people along with you, including a public that is bereaved, that doesn’t have any faith in the process. Does a negotiation address that in itself, by existing, and thereby giving people hope?

Alkidwa: Not really. There are requirements. I agree with you, of course, that there is pain, there is agony, there is anger. There’s no doubt about that. We need to overcome these feelings on the part of the people. The first requirement is a new leadership, as Mr Olmert said, and I would record here that I wrote a small article for the Economist at the beginning of the war where I argued that one of the results of this war will be a new Israeli government, a new Palestinian leadership and a new Hamas. At the time, many people were angry with me, including friends of Hamas, but I said they cannot continue as they are, we need to see serious change. The second requirement is that the process needs to be a real process. Because frankly, one of the problems is that the old so-called peace process was for many Palestinians a hoax. It didn’t achieve anything. Of course, there was Oslo, there was the attempt to reach agreement by Olmert and Abbas, and there were other attempts, but in general, nothing has changed. So, if you come to Palestinians and tell them “you have to believe in the process”, they will not. Someone said if elections take place, Gazans will elect Hamas. Maybe—although Gaza is different to the West Bank, and the rule seems to be that the further you go from Gaza, the more support for Hamas emerges. But this “maybe” will transform into “definitely” if there is real hope. If you can tell Gazans I’m going to give you a better life, better schools. So, the second requirement is to make things for real. When you make things for real, people will change their minds and decide to choose a better life than this endless, miserable confrontation. 

Finally, I just want to tell you that I once read a nice article from an Israeli writer, I think it was in the New York Times, who argued that there will be a political solution. Maybe not out of magnanimity and enthusiasm and the need to end this, but out of despair and tiredness and the inability of each side to annihilate the other. At the end of the day, come on. We tried everything. Let’s come together and try to make a deal. I think that this is going to happen anyway.

Ferber: Can Palestinians and Israelis forgive each other? Do they need to, to make peace?

Alkidwa: They don’t need to forgive anything. They need just to overcome their prejudices and decide that we have to build a new life for us, for our children and for our neighbours as well. Then things will develop in a different way.

Alkidwa: I think people will decide to choose a better life than this endless, miserable confrontation

Olmert: It is incumbent upon Israel to make every possible effort to advance the chances for meaningful peace negotiations. It is incumbent upon the Palestinians to be very determined in fighting the terrorist, fundamentalist religious extremists. Now, obviously, they have created this crisis. And they have prevented the PA from entering Gaza since the takeover by Hamas of the Strip in 2007. So each side will have to overcome the internal opposition that is preventing things from moving forward in the right direction. It’s not on one side. We have to make changes; they have to make changes. As Dr Alkidwa said, maybe the two sides will come to the inevitable conclusion that we’ve had enough of wars. It doesn’t do us any good. Now what we need is to have the emotional capacity to overcome the obsessions which have governed our priorities over many years, and to move forward into something that can be helpful. I think that the overwhelming majority of Palestinians want to live side by side with Israel, in peace. I think that the majority of the Israelis want to live side by side with Palestinians. The historical circumstances, the lack of leadership, the lack of courage, the lack of determination, the lack of vision prevented it for many years. Maybe the pains of this recent experience will ultimately, after the period of time that it will take both sides to recuperate from the pains of the war, lead to the point where we’ll be ready. I hope. 

Ferber: What needs to happen for negotiations to start?

Olmert: Just one telephone call.

Ferber: That’s it?

Olmert: How did we start the negotiations between me and Abbas in 2006? There was one call, another call, three meetings, four meetings that were set up and cancelled. At the last minute, finally, there was this famous call in which I said to Mahmoud Abbas that I understand that he cancels meetings with me all the time because he wants to insult me. Which is okay, I understand he may have his own emotions. He wants to insult me. But why does he have to insult my wife? When he heard this, he was stunned for a second. He said, “What? How do I insult your wife?” I said, “Listen, I told her that you’re going to have dinner at our place on Saturday night, and since then, she’s cooking the food that we were told that you like. Now, what am I going to say to her if you don’t come?” So he said, “You know what? I will come”, and he came. That’s how we started negotiations. I’m sure that if it had depended on me and Dr Alkidwa it would have been even easier, you wouldn’t have cancelled in the first place. But it’s just a telephone call.

Alkidwa: I would add that, from my previous answers, I believe priority should be given to rebuilding Gaza. But then I did speak of many components, and like it or not, these need to come together. You need real power to put these things together. Maybe the United States, for instance, or a group of friends, an international conference, whatever. You will need some mechanism. And to start with all of the things that we spoke about and to ensure that there will be a final settlement, Palestinian state, Israeli state.

Olmert: By the way, Israel already exists. What we need is to find a solution that will allow the Palestinians to exercise their right to self-determination.

Alkidwa: I like the fact that Mr Olmert refers to the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination, I just might add “and national independence, in a state that exists on 1967 borders”. 

Olmert: The right of self-determination is synonymous with national independence. Of course, when I talk about the Palestinian state, I mean, a sovereign Palestinian state. In conclusion, if you don’t mind, I want to say one thing. When we were negotiating, we had hours and hours. In one of the talks, one of the Palestinian representatives said to me, “Look, don’t get it wrong. We want to have a sovereign, independent Palestinian state like any other sovereign state. We don’t have to have all kinds of forces coming to control our cities and our streets, and our borders.” And I said, “That’s precisely what I mean. So this was from day one, what I proposed to Mahmoud Abbas. That’s what I presented him, officially on behalf of the state of Israel as prime minister. He then didn’t have the vision or the courage or whatever to say yes.

Ferber: One final question for you both. The matter of recognition of a Palestinian state came up during the election here in the UK. Norway, Spain, Ireland and Slovenia recently recognised Palestine as a state. How helpful are those diplomatic moves to actual achievement of Palestinian statehood? 

Olmert: each side will have to overcome the internal opposition that is preventing things from moving forward

Olmert: The Palestinian state will not be created without negotiations. Declarations are immaterial, to my mind. On the contrary, they may be counterproductive because there will be enough Palestinians that will say, “Now that we have recognition of Great Britain, of Europeans, of others, we don’t need to negotiate with Israel, we just have to enforce this recognition in practical terms.” Without negotiations, there will not be a Palestinian state. I want to have these negotiations without preconditions, and I want the Palestinian side to be prepared for the same thing: negotiations to resolve the historic conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. In the framework for this will be the stated recognition by both sides that there should be a Palestinian state alongside Israel, living in peace and in cooperation. By the way, I know that when we have peace, and there is a Palestinian state, Israel and the Palestinians will be the best partners in the Middle East. Historical conflicts of this nature existed in the past, and they were resolved; countries have cooperated with each other after many wars. You had it in Europe. We may have it here. But the inevitable future is peace, a Palestinian state, alongside the state of Israel. 

Alkidwa: I like the second part, but not necessarily the first. If the Israeli government commits to accepting the state of Palestine, of course we need to negotiate with each other and solve everything peacefully. But if the Israeli government says no, there will not be a state of Palestine, there is nothing to negotiate. And in this case, yes, I think the positions of influential international parties especially are helpful—not in terms of giving Palestinians a gift, but in creating political facts which are binding on those states, such as when those countries say that there is a Palestinian state on 1967 borders, irrespective of what’s happening in the Palestinian arena, which is not that encouraging anyway. 

Back to the UK, the clearest statement was by Lord Cameron when he talked about the possibility of recognition of the state of Palestine, and there were also other indications regarding statehood, and then there was backpedalling. Yesterday or the day before yesterday, reports erupted about Labour’s election manifesto. And frankly, I didn’t understand anything. It was mumbo jumbo, about the beginning and the end and I don’t know what. Anyway, Mr Starmer doesn’t want to recognise the state of Palestine. So there is a problem there. Though, I think that the UK has a special responsibility, and it has to bear that responsibility and to take the lead. I think they can make a difference. 

Ferber: To clarify, you’re saying that Britain has a special historical responsibility for the conflict?

Alkidwa: Yes, because of the history, not only the mandate—the mandate and what happened after and everything else. I’m not in favour, of course, of forgetting our problems and going for a fight with the UK, as some people suggested. This is, I think, stupid. But I don’t want to absolve the UK from its responsibility. So because of the presence of many smart guys in the British government, British diplomacy can play a very important, useful role. Hopefully, the two parties, the Conservatives and Labour, will be able to come out of this dilemma and take clear positions, not following blindly in the footsteps of the US in this regard, because frankly, even the US started saying positive things about Palestinian statehood and suddenly went back to the original mantra that this can happen only through negotiation. When you say “only through negotiations”, you give Israel a veto power on that, as if the Palestinians are an internal Israeli problem, which we are not. We are equal. We need to negotiate with each other. Yes, provided we commit to the desirable outcome at the end of the road, that is fine. But if they don’t accept it, we have to find another solution.

Ferber: Do either of you have anything to add before we end this conversation?

Olmert: I think we made ourselves quite clear. Both sides. 

This transcript has been edited for length and clarity