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Impossible to eradicate Hamas, says former Israeli Prime Minister; Reaching agreement to return hostages ‘most urgent issue’

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert speaks to the Yomiuri Shimbun in Tel Aviv on Monday.

JERUSALEM – Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said it is impossible to completely eradicate Hamas, as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu plans.

Olmert said in an interview with The Yomiuri Shimbun on Monday that the most pressing issue was for Israel to try “to reach an agreement with Hamas to bring back all the hostages.”

Olmert, now 78, was prime minister from 2006 to 2009 after serving as a lawyer, mayor of Jerusalem and deputy prime minister of Israel. During his term as prime minister, Olmert led the 2006 Lebanon War and the Israeli invasion of the Gaza Strip from 2008 to 2009.

He is essentially a contemporary of his political rival Netanyahu, the leader of the right-wing Likud party and who returned to the post of prime minister in 2009.

“From 2009 onwards, it was clear that meaningful peace negotiations could not take place because Netanyahu was unwilling to take any step in this direction, and as a result[ed] the more radical forces within the Palestinians,” Olmert said about Hamas’ attack on Israel on October 7 last year.

He also said that since Netanyahu returned to power, the moderate forces within Palestinian autonomy had nothing to offer because Netanyahu was unwilling to negotiate anything and only talked about settlements.

Regarding the Hamas attack in October, Olmert said it posed no real threat to Israel’s survival. “You’re talking about one of the most powerful nations in the world,” he said.

Olmert said the outcome of the war in the Palestinian autonomous region of Gaza was “very bad” and urged that international forces be stationed there to allow Israeli forces to withdraw and reach an agreement on the return of the hostages to bring.

“If we decide to completely withdraw from Gaza, … we will end the war,” he said.

Asked about Yahya Sinwar, the Hamas leader Israel is pursuing, Olmert emphasized: “The entire stability in the Middle East and the balance of events, and the security of the State of Israel, does not depend on whether he is still alive or not.”

Regarding the governance of Gaza after the war, Olmert said Gaza should be controlled by Palestinians who are not involved with terrorists.

“Together with possibly and hopefully moderate Arab countries,” he said. “I would be very happy that there will be Egyptian, Jordanian Emirati, Saudi-Bahraini forces together with Palestinian forces to control Gaza, because Gaza is Palestinian. It is up to them to decide how things will go as long as there is no dominant terrorist organization controlling Gaza.”

Olmert also emphasized the importance of a peace agreement.

“What is existential for Israel is an agreement with the Palestinians. If no agreement is reached, Israel’s survival will be at risk for years to come,” he said.

Olmert said a two-state solution may not be the ideal answer to the Gaza problem, but that he did not know if there is an “alternative solution that can make it even better.”

The Netanyahu government has joined forces with the far right.

“Israel is currently controlled by a very poor government. Incompetent, messianic, unrealistic and completely disrespected and unacceptable by the majority of the international community. This is something that needs to be changed quite quickly,” Olmert said.

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