THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Israeli leader refers to peril of South African-style apartheid

Cites populations, urges creation of Palestinian state

Email|Print| Text size + By Josef Federman
Associated Press / November 30, 2007

JERUSALEM - In unusually frank comments, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert warned in an interview published yesterday that "the state of Israel is finished" if a Palestinian state is not created, saying the alternative was a South African-style apartheid struggle.

Olmert made the explosive reference to apartheid as he returned from a peace conference in Annapolis, Md., hoping to prepare Israel for difficult negotiations with the Palestinians.

Just hours after his return, the Israeli leader received an important boost when police recommended that prosecutors drop an investigation into whether he illegally intervened in the government's sale of a bank two years ago.

While Olmert has long said that the region's demography was working against Israel, the comments published in the Haaretz daily were among his strongest. Israeli officials have long rejected any comparison to the racist system once in place in South Africa.

Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas agreed at the Annapolis summit to resume peace talks after a seven-year freeze. The two leaders pledged efforts to reach an agreement on the creation of a Palestinian state by the end of next year.

In the interview, Olmert said it was a vital Israeli interest to create a Palestinian state because of the growing Arab population in the area. "The day will come when the two-state solution collapses, and we face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights," Olmert told Haaretz. "As soon as that happens, the state of Israel is finished."

The interview was published on the 60th anniversary of the historic UN decision to partition Palestine, setting up separate Jewish and Arab states. The vote led to a war, and the Palestinian state was not created.

The Palestinians want to form their state in the Gaza Strip, West Bank, and East Jerusalem - areas Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast war.

Jews are a solid majority inside Israel, comprising roughly 80 percent of the population of 7 million. However, if the West Bank and Gaza are included, Arabs make up nearly half the population.

To ensure that Israel can maintain its character as a democracy with a solid Jewish majority, Olmert supports a withdrawal from much of the West Bank and parts of east Jerusalem, following Israel's pullout from Gaza in 2005.

Israel's 1.5 million Arab citizens have the right to vote, but the estimated 3.9 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza do not have Israeli citizenship or rights.

Olmert, a hard-liner earlier in his career, in recent years has repeatedly warned that Israel cannot remain both Jewish and democratic if it holds on to the West Bank and Gaza. But he has never used the South African analogy in public, though officials say he recently made the same argument in a closed meeting with lawmakers.

Gazans complained yesterday that they are running out of fuel, blaming an Israeli decision to cut back on supplies. However, the private Israeli company that sells fuel to Gaza said the problem was that Gaza is not paying its bills - an issue that repeats itself every few months and is usually resolved quickly.

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