JERUSALEM — JERUSALEM -- Ehud Olmert, in his first major policy address since becoming Israel's acting prime minister, said yesterday that he backs the creation of a Palestinian state and that Israel will have to relinquish parts of the West Bank to maintain its Jewish majority.
"We support the establishment of a modern, democratic Palestinian state," Olmert said at the annual Herzliya Conference near Tel Aviv, which has become a forum for important speeches by Israeli leaders. "The existence of two nations, one Jewish and one Palestinian, is the full solution to the national aspirations and problems of each of the peoples."
Olmert, who assumed his post after Prime Minister Ariel Sharon suffered a stroke Jan. 4, said he was following the path set down by Sharon, who is in a coma.
Olmert said the biggest challenge facing Israel was defining the country's permanent borders so that it could maintain a Jewish majority. All of the West Bank is part of "our historic homeland," Olmert said. But, he added, demographic realities will require handing back parts of the West Bank, which Israel captured during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.
"The choice between allowing Jews to live in all parts of the land of Israel and living in a state with a Jewish majority mandates giving up parts of the Land of Israel," Olmert said. "We will not be able to continue ruling over the territories in which the majority of the Palestinian population lives."
Olmert did not offer new proposals and said it is an opportune moment to revive peacemaking efforts, with the Palestinians holding parliamentary elections today and with Israel holding legislative elections March 28.
Like Sharon, Olmert said he would be guided by the "road map," the international peace plan introduced in 2003.
Olmert cited the road map's rarely mentioned second stage, which would allow for a Palestinian state with temporary borders. Palestinians could have a state "even before all the complicated issues connected to a final agreement are resolved," he noted.