Impossible to Wipe Out Hamas, Ex-Israeli Prime Minister Says; Reaching Deal to Bring Back Hostages ‘Most Pressing 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 wipe out Hamas as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu intends.

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

Olmert, now 78, was prime minister from 2006 to 2009 after serving as an attorney, the mayor of Jerusalem and the deputy prime minister of Israel. During his tenure as prime minister, Olmert led the 2006 Lebanon War and Israel’s 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 prime minister’s post in 2009.

“From 2009, it was obvious that there can be no meaningful peace negotiations because Netanyahu was not prepared to make any step in this direction, and that as a result has strengthen[ed] the more radical forces within the Palestinians,” Olmert said of Hamas’ attack on Israel on Oct. 7 last year.

He also said that since Netanyahu returned to power, the moderate forces among the Palestinian autonomy had nothing to offer because Netanyahu was not prepared to negotiate anything and just talked about settlements all the time.

Regarding Hamas’ attack in October, Olmert said it was not a real threat to the existence of Israel. “You’re talking about one of the most powerful nations in the world,” he said.

Olmert said the result of the war in the Palestinian autonomous area of Gaza was“ very poor” and insisted that international forces should be stationed there to let Israeli forces pull out and bring about an agreement over the return of the hostages.

“If we will decide to pull out completely from Gaza, … we’ll end the war,” he said.

Asked about Yahya Sinwar, the Hamas leader Israel is pursuing, Olmert stressed, “The entire Middle East stability and the balance of events, and the security of the State of Israel do not depend on whether he will be alive or not.”

As for the governing of Gaza after the war, Olmert said Gaza has to be controlled by Palestinians who are not involved with terrorists.

“Together with possibly, hopefully moderate Arab countries,” he said. “I’d be very happy that there will be an Egyptian, a Jordanian Emirati, Saudi Bahraini forces together with Palestinian forces to control Gaza because Gaza is Palestinian. It is up for them to decide how it is, as long as there is not a 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 there will not be agreement, then the existence of Israel will be in jeopardy 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 any better.”

The Netanyahu administration has joined hands with the extreme right.

“Israel is presently controlled by a very poor government. Incapable, messianic, unrealistic and totally unrespected and unacceptable by the majority of the international community. This is something that needs to be changed rather rapidly,” Olmert said.