JERUSALEM, Sept. 24 (UPI) -- Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert says the United States is wrong in making West Bank settlement-building a key issue in the Mideast peace talks.
"In my opinion, the issue of the building freeze at the settlements is marginal," Olmert said in an opinion piece published Friday in The Jerusalem Post.
"The U.S. administration made it a central issue and the Palestinian leadership had to follow suit. As a result, the entire region and the U.S. – as a central player in shaping the political arena of the Middle East – have been preoccupied with an issue whose success or failure will not really influence the diplomatic process in our region," Olmert wrote
In the current situation, neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians can give in, he said.
"If the prime minister of Israel announces the extension of the building freeze, he might jeopardize his government's stability when negotiations have still not reached a substantial level. If the Palestinian president capitulates, and agrees to negotiate even if the freeze is canceled, he will be vulnerable to insufferable pressure from extreme factors in the Palestinian community," Olmert wrote.
To prevent the collapse of the talks at such an early stage, the former prime minister said, "the government of Israel can and must refocus discussion on the core issues of dispute between us and the Palestinians."
He said the freeze, or continued building in the settlements, are not the issues that will determine the outcome of the peace talks.
"There is no point wasting energy and creative thought on how to somehow both cancel the freeze and maintain it, as it seems to me is being attempted," Olmert said.
Failure of the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks to achieve their goal will have an impact on the stability of the entire Middle East, Olmert said.
Olmert listed five issues he said would determine the result of the current round of talks:
-- The question of borders and the scope of the Israeli withdrawal from the territories, and whether it will also include parts of Jerusalem.
-- What will be the status of non-Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem.
-- A solution to the Palestinian refugee problem.
-- Whether the Palestinians will agree to respect Israel's security needs.
-- The status of the Holy Basin, and whether the sides will agree that the area will be overseen by an international trusteeship and not become a sovereign part of the state of Israel or the future Palestinian state.
The Holy Basin refers to the area of the Temple Mount, the Mount of Olives, Mount Zion and various Christian holy sites in Jerusalem.