Israel nearly finalized a peace agreement with the Palestinian Authority, outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Wednesday at a Manufacturers Association of Israel gala in his honor.
Speaking at the event, Olmert said that Israel "was a hair's breadth away from striking peace with the Palestinians, but unfortunately we were unable to achieve it."
Olmert also expressed his hopes that abducted IDF soldier Gilad Shalit will be released before the next government takes office.
"Not a day goes by since Gilad was abducted that I don't think about him or see him before me, in the photo placed on the desk in my office all this time," the PM said. Expressing his displeasure with some recent comments about the matter, Olmert said: "This issue is so sensitive and complicated that the more people talk about it, the more they prevent it from materializing."
"We are making efforts to bring Gilad back home these days," the outgoing prime minister said. "I hope with all my heart that I will have time to bring him back."
'Inevitable decision'Turning his attention to negotiations with the Palestinians, the PM urged his predecessors to continue the talks.
"The leader who will have the courage and strength to take an inevitable decision and bring peace with the Palestinians will be able to serve even three terms," he said. "Nobody can say he knows the arguments for and against like I do."
"A decision needs to be taken…and only later should all the details be discussed in the course of thorough negotiations," Olmert said. "I wanted to be the person who takes this decision and I was a hair's breadth away from an agreement…yet political realities wanted something else. The distance isn't great, and time is limited."
Addressing the efforts to restore Israel's deterrent power in the past three years, Olmert said: "We undertook a great effort to rebuild Israel's deterrent power. I cannot and do not wish to tell you how we did it and what we did. The fact that quiet prevailed in the north in the month we fought in the south is not coincidental. The fact that the Lebanese army seizes Katyusha rockets is not coincidental."
"We are a very very powerful country with the ability to do things that are hard to imagine," he said. "Believe me; I know what I'm talking about. The State of Israel will be able to defend itself in the face of any enemy and in any situation."