In this interview with Center for Middle East Policy Director and Senior Fellow Natan Sachs, former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert discusses his memoir, Searching for Peace, published in 2022 by Brookings Institution Press. In a wide-ranging conversation, Olmert reviews decisions that defined his time in office as well as the questions facing present-day Israel.
A revealing memoir by the Israeli leader who almost made peace with the Palestinians
Written almost entirely from inside a prison cell, Searching for Peace is the compelling memoir of former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert.
The child of parents who were members of the Irgun, the paramilitary group that fought for the establishment of Israel, Olmert became the youngest member of the Israeli Knesset in 1973, serving in the right-wing Likud party. He rose quickly in the party, serving in national government before being elected mayor of Jerusalem in 1993.
As mayor he overcame decades of municipal malaise, inertia, and waves of terror attacks to bring huge improvements in the city’s infrastructure, education, and welfare. Although a child of the Israeli right, it was during his mayoralty that he realized the inevitability of compromise and the need to divide the city in any future peace agreement with the Palestinians.
Olmert rejoined the national government in 2003 as a top aide to then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. After Sharon suffered a debilitating stroke in 2006, Olmert took over as acting prime minister, then led Sharon’s new centrist party Kadima to victory in elections. Heading a coalition government, Olmert led Israel through the war with Lebanon in July 2006 and approved the dramatic strike on Syria’s nuclear reactor the following year.
From late 2006 through 2008, Olmert engaged in some three dozen negotiations with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas. The talks, Olmert says, came “within a hair’s breadth” of reaching a comprehensive peace deal.
At the same time, Olmert was fighting allegations that he had illegally accepted large sums of money from a well-connected American businessman. He was acquitted of all but a minor charge against him, but in 2014 he was convicted on charges of taking $15,000 in bribes involving the construction of an industrial park while he served as Minister of Industry and Trade. He served 16 months in prison, using his time to write these memoirs.
Searching for Peace offers a riveting political story and an unparalleled window into Israeli history, peacemaking, politics, U.S.-Israel relations, and the future of the Middle East.
Ehud Olmert served as Prime Minister of Israel from 2006 to 2009 and Mayor of Jerusalem from 1993 to 2003.