Sunday, December 6, 2009

Olmert Offered, the Palestinians Took a Trip

The Australian last week published a long interview with Ehud Olmert. It conatins the most detailled description I've seen or heard of, of his offer to Abu Mazen of 16th September 2008:

"On the 16th of September, 2008, I presented him (Abbas) with a comprehensive plan. It was based on the following principles.

One, there would be a territorial solution to the conflict on the basis of the 1967 borders with minor modifications on both sides. Israel will claim part of the West Bank where there have been demographic changes over the last 40 years."

This approach by Olmert would have allowed Israel to keep the biggest Jewish settlement blocks which are mainly now suburbs of Jerusalem, but would certainly have entailed other settlers having to leave Palestinian territory and relocate to Israel.

In total, Olmert says, this would have involved Israel claiming about 6.4 per cent of Palestinian territory in the West Bank: "It might be a fraction more, it might be a fraction less, but in total it would be about 6.4 per cent. Israel would claim all the Jewish areas of Jerusalem. All the lands that before 1967 were buffer zones between the two populations would have been split in half. In return there would be a swap of land (to the Palestinians) from Israel as it existed before 1967.

"I showed Abu Mazen how this would work to maintain the contiguity of the Palestinian state. I also proposed a safe passage between the West Bank and Gaza. It would have been a tunnel fully controlled by the Palestinians but not under Palestinian sovereignty, otherwise it would have cut the state of Israel in two.

"No 2 was the issue of Jerusalem. This was a very sensitive, very painful, soul-searching process. While I firmly believed that historically, and emotionally, Jerusalem was always the capital of the Jewish people, I was ready that the city should be shared. Jewish neighbourhoods would be under Jewish sovereignty, Arab neighbourhoods would be under Palestinian sovereignty, so it could be the capital of a Palestinian state.

"Then there was the question of the holy basin within Jerusalem, the sites that are holy to Jews and Muslims, but not only to them, to Christians as well. I would never agree to an exclusive Muslim sovereignty over areas that are religiously important to Jews and Christians. So there would be an area of no sovereignty, which would be jointly administered by five nations, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the Palestinian state, Israel and the United States.

"Third was the issue of Palestinian refugees." This issue has often been a seeming deal-breaker. The Palestinians insist that all Palestinians who left Israel - at or near the time of its founding - and all their spouses and descendants, should be able to return to live in Israel proper. This could be more than a million people. Olmert, like other Israeli prime ministers, could never agree to this: "I think Abu Mazen understood there was no chance Israel would become the homeland of the Palestinian people. The Palestinian state was to be the homeland of the Palestinian people. So the question was how the claimed attachment of the Palestinian refugees to their original places could be recognised without bringing them in. I told him I would never agree to a right of return. Instead, we would agree on a humanitarian basis to accept a certain number every year for five years, on the basis that this would be the end of conflict and the end of claims. I said to him 1000 per year. I think the Americans were entirely with me.

"In addition, we talked about creating an international fund that would compensate Palestinians for their suffering. I was the first Israeli prime minister to speak of Palestinian suffering and to say that we are not indifferent to that suffering.

"And four, there were security issues." Olmert says he showed Abbas a map, which embodied all these plans. Abbas wanted to take the map away. Olmert agreed, so long as they both signed the map. It was, from Olmert's point of view, a final offer, not a basis for future negotiation. But Abbas could not commit. Instead, he said he would come with experts the next day.

"He (Abbas) promised me the next day his adviser would come. But the next day Saeb Erekat rang my adviser and said we forgot we are going to Amman today, let's make it next week. I never saw him again."

To the best of my knowledge, Abu Mazen has publicly admitted the essentials of this version, when he admitted regretting not accepting it before Netanyahu was elected. That's not as good as having the documents themselves in the public domain for universal perusal, but that, obviously, can't happen at this stage, not while the negotiations are still unresolved.

Or after 50 years, when the archives open. Whichever comes first.

(h/t soccerdad, last week).


AKUS said...

Wasn't this first published in the JP or Ha'aretz some time ago? I think it may even have been repeated in the Washington Post.

I think Abbas has somewhere stated that he regrets not accepting the offer, or coming back after he met with his map expert.

Anonymous said...

Olmert was willing to give the Palestinians everything. EVERYTHING. We truly can always count on the Arabs to sabotage our plans to sabotage ourselves. One day, in judgement, the angels will ask, "who prevented Israel from relinquishing their land?" Ishmael will step forward to receive his reward.

Victor said...

Yaakov, check this out.

You haven't commented much on the Freeze. How are things being reported in Israel? I'm in touch with some people in the settlements. Everyone has rallied together against the freeze - the moderates along with the right (are there any leftists in the settlements?). Serious civil disobedience is coming.

The settlement freeze sort of crept up on people. No one in the settlements thought Netanyahu would go as far as he did, to restrict growth in settlement blocks that will always remain in Israel, and this has united the residents of Itamar and Havat Gilad and Bruchin with Gilo and Maale Adumim and Elkana.

I don't think most Jews, in Israel and in the Diaspora, are prepared for what is about to happen. People are not going to sit around and wait to be cooked alive like frogs. The same resistance the settler leadership was preparing for evacuation will be unleashed now.

Anonymous said...

This is truly distressing. Unilateral surrender -- bring in the Saudis! Then, to have it rejected!

Obviously the Palestinians have good reason to believe they'll get it all. Someday. Perhaps Olmert's successors will simply hand it to them.

Gavin said...

What's your personal view on it as an Israeli Yaacov? Was it a good offer, was it too generous, naive, would it (or could it) have brought peace?

Regards, Gavin

Yaacov said...

Victor -

I haven't written about the freeze, since I don't yet feel I have anything worthy to say about it; and that is because I'm not certain what's going on, who, why and so on. I'll get to it eventually.

Gavin -

Points 1, 3, and 4 are all fine with me. They're aren't particularly new, either, and have been on the table since the end of the year 2000. Paragraph 2, where he deals with Jerusalem, won't work. Dividing the city by neighborhood has been the main proposal for years, and it's the solution accepted by about 100% of the people who deal with these matters; none of them ever admit that it can't be done, not in the real world. As for the part about having no sovereignty over the holy basin - that's indeed the main innovation in Olmert's proposal; the part where he totally went out on a branch and detached himself from the electorate. I think it's wrong, not practicable, and a recipe for a disaster. All the more puzzling that the Palestinians allowed the proposal to disappear.

I really need to find the time to write about that tour to Hebron last week. The bottom line was that divided Hebron demonstrates why dividing Jerusalem will be the reason for the next war.

NormanF said...

For the Palestinians Olmert's offer just wasn't good enough. No Israeli Prime Minister could ever satisfy them unless he agreed to sign his country out of existence.

That's exactly the point.