Less than a week after police investigators recommended he be indicted on corruption charges, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert spoke at a Kadima Party convention on Thursday ahead of Rosh Hashana. He opened his remarks with condolences to the families of the two pilots killed in a helicopter crash on Wednesday.
"I am excited to be here with you," Olmert said. "This is a party by the people and for the people. We may be a relatively young party on Israel's political landscape, but it seems as though we have always been her. It is clear to all that Kadima's existence is a reality, and that it is a living, functioning party that is powerful enough to lead Israel for many years."
Regarding the Kadima primary elections taking place next week, Olmert said: "I'm just a spectator. I announced early on that I would not be part of any campaign to elect Kadima's new leader. We have some excellent candidates, and I promise whoever is elected my full cooperation."
As he went on with his speech, a de-facto farewell address, Olmert sounded choked with emotion. He stressed that the "transfer of power will take place in a responsible and statesmanlike fashion – as I have tried to conduct myself in office."
The prime minister also spoke about the ongoing negotiations with the Palestinian Authority. "We have made significant progress, although not on all of the issues, so we have not yet begun to negotiate on Jerusalem. We said it would be the last matter discussed – and so it will be. I believe we can reach an agreement by the end of 2008, one that will keep Israel safe from now until forever."
Regarding the indirect peace talks with Damascus, Olmert said, "We are conducting indirect negotiations with Syria, in a responsible and judicious manner that enjoys the full backing of Israel's armed forces. I have not made any promises to President (Bashar) Assad. My message was clear: I know what you want – you know what I want, let's talk about it.
"Israel is committed to the negotiations with Syria and we will continue to take advantage of any chance for peace and normalization with our neighbor to the north. The basis for negotiations is the Madrid Conference of 1991."
Olmert also issued a stern warning to Hamas. ""Gilad is alive, and Hamas holds responsibility for his fate," the prime minister said, "and if a single hair falls from his head, Hamas will pay the full price."