We must pursue a comprehensive solution with energy and vision, writes Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert
Our victory in those six days in June 1967 - swift, complete and totally unexpected - showed us and the world we were not going to be wiped off the map that easily. Israel fought an unwanted war to defend her very existence, and today there are still leaders who call for Israel to be wiped off the map. But there is a danger that that will be forgotten, overtaken by a re-reading of history. Our survival in 1967 is now, in the eyes of the world and, with worrying consequences in the UK, the original sin of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Our opponents argue against the ongoing "occupation" as if it were the Gordian knot of the conflict. If only we were to leave the territories the conflict would end. And they threaten international isolation if we do not.
If only the conflict were so simple; if only the answer were so simple. Over the last 15 years, successive Israeli governments have initiated talks with the Palestinians in every conceivable permutation in an attempt to reach a settlement. In the 1990s, Israel withdrew from all the Palestinian cities in the West Bank, handing its affairs over to a Palestinian Authority. Nearly two years ago, Israel withdrew its troops and civilians from Gaza, with no preconditions. Last year my Kadima party came to power on an agenda promising further withdrawals. In the face of concessions that have threatened our own domestic consensus, the constant refrain has been the Palestinian refusal to end its violent attacks on our citizens.
Palestinian violence is not a response to the capture of the West Bank and Gaza. Palestinian nationalism's roots are not so shallow. From the emergence of the Zionist movement over 100 years ago, Arabs have opposed our claim to independence on our historic homeland, often violently. Our conflict is not territorial, it is national.
The only way we can resolve the conflict is by establishing secure and recognised boundaries for the peoples of the region. It was on that basis we were able to conclude a peace treaty with Egypt, exchanging land for a peace that has endured for nearly 30 years. We did the same with Jordan. It is on the same basis that we will, I hope, be able to resolve our conflict with the Palestinians, with two peoples living in two states. Jerusalem, our eternal capital, can then be a city that represents peace rather than discord, a city for all its residents that does not distinguish between race, religion or class. Those are the principles that I myself implemented as mayor of the city for 10 years.
As a young politician I voted against the return of Sinai and peace with Egypt. I was mistaken. We will not hesitate to take bold initiatives to advance peace, even if they require heavy concessions. The legacies of Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat, of Yitzhak Rabin and King Hussein, stand as an inspiration for all who work for peace.
We need such political maturity from our Palestinian partners now if they are to stop the internecine fighting that is tearing apart their society, exposing our citizens to a daily barrage of deadly rocketfire and preventing any progress on peace talks. Israel will not tolerate violence against its citizens, and my government will act decisively to protect them. But I also know that we will not resolve the crisis through military means alone. I will continue to meet Mahmoud Abbas, and discuss ways in which the Palestinian Authority can fight against lawlessness and extremism, and urge him to control the violence emanating from Gaza.
In the wider Arab world, there is ever greater recognition that Israel will not disappear from the map. I take the offer of full normalisation of relations between Israel and the Arab world seriously; and I am ready to discuss the Arab peace initiative in an open and sincere manner. Working with our Jordanian and Egyptian partners, and hopefully other Arab states, we must pursue a comprehensive peace with energy and vision. I look forward to being able to discuss this with our other neighbours. But the talks must be a discussion, not an ultimatum.
Israel is prepared to make painful concessions to pay the price for a lasting and just peace that will allow the people of the Middle East to live in dignity and security. But as strong and resourceful as Israelis are, we cannot make peace alone.
· Ehud Olmert is prime minister of Israel