Yossi Olmert, a top Middle East scholar and brother of current Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, discussed the implications of Israel’s new government, the Hamas leadership in Palestinian territories, the Iranian threat and the Middle East on May 17.
The event, sponsored by the UC Irvine political science department and the Center for Global Peace and Conflict Studies, took place the same week as the Muslim Student Union’s ‘Holocaust in the Holy Land’ events.
Olmert, who holds a Ph.D. from the London School of Economics in Middle East history, spoke about the desire of Israel to move away from conflict to a more peaceful existence.
‘Elections [in Israel] reflected an interesting development. For the first time we have a new political party that is trying to resolve issues from the center,’ Olmert said, referring to Israel’s new Kadima party, a Hebrew word meaning ‘forward.’
Olmert acknowledged that Israel has been placed in a precarious situation in which peace talks have been halted because of Hamas’ refusal to recognize the right of Israel to exist.
‘Hamas is a terror group,’ Olmert said. ‘We don’t care whether they call themselves democratic or not. The point is that they call for the destruction of Israel. … They have taken pride in over 60 successful suicide bombings.’
According to Olmert, crime will not go unpunished and suicide bombing is a crime.
‘It is a crime to take pride [in bombings]. … Nobody in Israel would like to be democratically killed,’ Olmert said, citing the numbers of people killed in terrorist attacks. ‘One thousand one hundred people [is] like 40,000 in American terms.’
Olmert suggested that Palestinians need to overcome their fundamentalist government. Olmert called the unstable Palestinian situation in Gaza ‘a tragedy’ because Hamas has overpowered the territories turned over to Palestinians in August.
‘What is happening in Gaza today?’ Olmert asked. ‘Attack on Israel.’
Olmert also discussed the rejected offer of peace Ehud Barak made to Palestinians, an offer that would have ceded 97 percent of the disputed territories.
Olmert suggested the right of the Palestinian people to take back millions of United Nations funds stolen by the late Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat.
‘The state of Palestine could be established, should be established, [but] would not be established if it’s a terrorist nation,’ Olmert said. ‘[Furthermore], we don’t want to stop [Palestinians] from traveling freely. But if crossings are used to infiltrate suicide bombings, we have no choice.’
‘Our patience is not unlimited,’ Olmert continued. ‘We are not a bunch of idiots in Israel. We will not discuss our own destruction with terrorists. We refuse to be victims, hostages of the status quo. If there is no other party to talk to, if the other side refuses to talk, we will move on.’
Issues relating to Iran were also discussed.
‘The president of Iran says he wants to destroy Israel, so we believe it … [but] Iran will not possess the atomic bomb to destroy Israel,’ Olmert said. ‘There is no reason for Iran to be the enemy of Israel. Israel has never issued a threat.’
Olmert mentioned the peace Israel has with various Islamic nations around the world.
‘There is a war between radical Muslim fundamentalists, not Jews and Muslims,’ Olmert said. ‘The blame game can’t continue. It takes us to more tragedy, more destruction.’
During a half-hour Q-and-A segment, several Muslims opposed Olmert, suggesting that the Iranian president is not a threat and that Iran has the right to nuclear weapons, like all countries. They also emphasized their belief that Israel is an apartheid state.
Some Muslim Student Union members said that they do not ‘support the presence of Dr. Olmert at UC Irvine’ and left the classroom.
They were not available to comment after the event.
Olmert was not offended by MSU’s evident opposition to his speech.
‘If everyone likes you, that’s a cause for concern,’ Olmert said.
Other students found the event informative. Alex Chazen, a second-year political science major and the president of Anteaters for Israel and Hillel, the Jewish student union, thought that Olmert was very interesting.
‘I think he discussed the situation diplomatically and in a sensitive manner. He was very informative and I am glad I had the opportunity to hear him speak,’ Chazen said.