"Ben-Gurion was right," when he took the decision 60 years ago about the partitioning mandatory Palestine.
Olmert said that division of the land into a Jewish and an Arab state is essential now as well. "There is no other alternative," he said. In the gallery at the special session of parliament were relatives of the ambassadors who voted for the partition at the tense U.N. General Assembly session on Nov. 29, 1947.
David Ben-Gurion, a pre-state leader and Israel's first prime minister, favored accepting the partition plan, though it gave Israel only a fraction of the biblical Holy Land. He faced down opposition from Jewish hard-liners who preferred an all-or-nothing approach.
Olmert said Israel "deserves credit from the world" for accepting the partition, while the Arab world rejected it, setting off a two-year war after Israel declared its independence six months later.
Speaking after Olmert, hard-line opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu charged that today, the Palestinians want "two states for one people - a Palestinian state, and an Israeli state flooded with Palestinians under what they call the 'right of return"' of refugees displaced during the war, along with their descendants.
Olmert said Israel would take part in rehabilitating Palestinian refugees, while rejecting the demand that they be resettled in Israel. "We will do this willingly, not heaven forbid, out of feelings of guilt, but for pure humanitarian reasons and for good neighborly relations," he said. "That is a commitment and promise."