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JERUSALEM - In unusually frank comments, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert warned in an interview published Thursday that "the state of Israel is finished" if a Palestinian state is not created, saying the alternative was a South African-style apartheid struggle.
The explosive reference to apartheid came as Olmert returned from a high profile peace conference in Annapolis, Md., hoping to prepare a skeptical nation for difficult negotiations with the Palestinians.
Just hours after his return, the Israeli leader received an important boost when police recommended that prosecutors drop an investigation into whether he illegally intervened in the government's sale of a bank two years ago. The threat of indictment in the case cast a cloud over Olmert for months.
While Olmert has long said that the region's demography was working against Israel, the comments published in the Haaretz daily were among his strongest. Israeli officials have long rejected any comparison to the racist system once in place in South Africa.
Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas agreed at the Annapolis summit to resume peace talks after a seven-year freeze.
The two leaders pledged efforts to reach an agreement on the creation of a Palestinian state by the end of next year.
In the interview, Olmert said it was a vital Israeli interest to create a Palestinian state due to the growing Arab population in the area.
"The day will come when the two-state solution collapses, and we face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights," Olmert told Haaretz. "As soon as that happens, the state of Israel is finished."
The interview was published on the 60th anniversary of the historic U.N. decision to partition Palestine, setting up separate Jewish and Arab states. The vote led to a war, and the Palestinian state was not created.
Meanwhile, two polls published in Israeli newspapers Thursday showed the Israeli public to be highly skeptical of the fledgling peace process.
The polls, conducted by the Dahaf Institute and Dialog agency, found that fewer than one in five Israelis believe the Annapolis conference was a success, and more than 80 percent of the public thinks the Israeli and Palestinian leaders will not meet their goal of reaching a deal in 2008.
[Last modified November 30, 2007, 01:46:13]