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Israeli leader: Only route to peace is 2 states

Acting PM suggests future pullout will come through negotiation

From Guy Raz


Ehud Olmert

HERZLIYA, Israel (CNN) -- Acting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Tuesday that the most important challenge facing the nation is "setting the permanent borders of the state of Israel to ensure a Jewish majority."

Speaking at the annual Herzliya Conference in his first major policy address since taking the helm of the government, Olmert called Israel's pullout from Gaza last summer a "turning point for the state of Israel."

"In order to ensure that we have a Jewish homeland, we cannot continue to control those territories where there is a Palestinian majority," Olmert said. "We must as soon as possible lay down a clear-cut border that will ensure a Jewish majority within the state of Israel."

Olmert became acting prime minister earlier this month after Ariel Sharon had a severe stroke that has left him incapacitated.

Sharon's stroke sent shock waves through Israel's fragile political landscape at a sensitive time in Mideast events, just weeks before an Israeli parliamentary vote on March 28 and Palestinian elections on Wednesday.

Currently favored to win the Israeli vote, Olmert is running as the head of Kadima, the centrist political party that Sharon founded late last year after he broke from Likud.

Throughout Olmert's speech, he referred to Sharon, saying Israel must carry through with his peaceful goals for the nation.

"As Sharon said, we must not allow this new spirit to pass us by," Olmert said. "I do not intend to miss this opportunity."

Olmert suggested any future pullout from occupied land will come about through negotiations with the Palestinian leadership -- not unilateral action like last summer's withdrawal from Gaza.

He also vowed to retain Israel's main settlement blocs in any future deal and insisted that Jerusalem will remain under Israeli sovereignty.

"There is no Jewish state without Jerusalem as a capital in its center," he said.

But Olmert's main message was clear: There is now only one solution toward resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

"The only solution now is two states -- one Jewish, one Palestinian," he said.

He also had a message for Palestinians just hours before the start of Palestinian parliamentary elections, issuing a thinly veiled plea that they not elect the militant group Hamas to run the next Palestinian government.

"Do not choose extremists who have led them from tragedy to tragedy and to misery," he said. (Full story)

He said the elections are a "historic opportunity" for Palestinians in their push for an "independent Palestinian state in their own territory."

"History has given them a second opportunity to set up an independent state," he said. "Implementation of this opportunity involves dropping part of their national dreams, just as we gave up part of our national dreams."

He added, "Israel has already proven in the past, including in the disengagement, that it is prepared to further peace. We will continue to act that way with regard to the obligations that the state has taken upon itself with regard to the Palestinian Authority."

Olmert, Sharon's closest ally, ended the speech by wishing Sharon well: "I send sincerest wishes for the recovery of the man who for the past five years led us to reality with a chance for a better future."

He added, "I hope that soon we will be able to say, 'We have followed in your path.'"

The Herzliya Conference is a key event for Israel's political, economic and military leadership, and is considered the center stage for the articulation of national policy.

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