Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Palestinians Missed Again

Ehud Olmert and Saeb Erekat both agree that Olmet made on offer to the Palestinians in September 2008 that goes way beyond what any Israeli prime minister ever offered, and the Palestinians didn't respond.
At the end of Olmert's term he tried one last maneuver in an effort to secure a legacy. Olmert told me he met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in September 2008 and unfurled a map of Israel and the Palestinian territories. He says he offered Abbas 93.5 to 93.7 percent of the Palestinian territories, along with a land swap of 5.8 percent and a safe-passage corridor from Gaza to the West Bank that he says would make up the rest. The Holy Basin of Jerusalem would be under no sovereignty at all and administered by a consortium of Saudis, Jordanians, Israelis, Palestinians and Americans. Regarding refugees, Olmert says he rejected the right of return and instead offered, as a "humanitarian gesture," a small number of returnees, although "smaller than the Palestinians wanted—a very, very limited number."

Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, confirmed that Olmert had made the offer. "It's very sad," Erekat said. "He was serious, I have to say." Erekat said that he and Abbas studied the materials and began to formulate a response, coordinating with the Americans. But time eventually ran out. A few months after Olmert presented his offer, war erupted in Gaza. Shortly after that, Olmert was out of power.
The line about how time ran out is unconvincing. In September 2008 Olmert was about to be replaced by Livni; that this didn't happen was not something anyone could have counted on at the time. Basically, there was an offer on the table that gave the Palestinians considerably more than the Israeli public intended, made by a prime minister who had nothing to lose since his political career was over, and the Palestinians dithered. They always do: either because they're incompetent, or because they'll never give up on their precious right of return – and we'll never allow it. Which means they're holding out for what they can't have, and in the meantime they live without what they could have.

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