Wednesday, July 01, 2009

What Are The Chances For Peace If Abbas Cannot Recall--Let Alone Accept--What He Is Offered

Yossi Alpher, co-editor at bitterlemons.org, writes about the chances of any Israeli leader being able to negotiate a real peace with "moderate" Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas--based on Abbas's re-interpretation of the offers Olmert made to him during negotiations. He refers to an interview Abbas did in the Washington Post on May 29 and one that Olmert did on June 13 in Newsweek--and compares what the two leaders said about an Arab right of return.

Jackson Diehl recounts:
In our meeting Wednesday, Abbas acknowledged that Olmert had shown him a map proposing a Palestinian state on 97 percent of the West Bank -- though he complained that the Israeli leader refused to give him a copy of the plan. He confirmed that Olmert "accepted the principle" of the "right of return" of Palestinian refugees -- something no previous Israeli prime minister had done -- and offered to resettle thousands in Israel. In all, Olmert's peace offer was more generous to the Palestinians than either that of Bush or Bill Clinton; it's almost impossible to imagine Obama, or any Israeli government, going further.

Abbas turned it down. "The gaps were wide," he said.
However Olmert's account--backed by Saeb Erekat--differs:
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.[emphasis added]
Yossi Alpher finds Abbas's unrealistic expectations and twisting of Olmert's offers a major impediment in the search for real peace:
Every so often, a national leader makes statements in an interview that redefine his position on the world stage. Abbas appears to have done this. Abbas chose to interpret whatever statement of empathy Olmert made about the refugees--the effort the Israeli leader apparently undertook to offer the Palestinians some sort of psychological closure regarding the events of 1948--as acceptance of the right of return, while the Israeli prime minister understood he was saying the opposite and rejecting the right of return. Abbas looks at an offer of virtually the entire territory of the West Bank, internationalization of the disputed holy sites in Jerusalem and (according to him) the right of return, turns it down and says "the gaps were wide".

Can we Israelis be blamed for suspecting that we really do not have a partner for a two-state deal?
Here was Olmert, as liberal and willing a leader as Israel is likely to ever produce and Abbas who is considered to be as moderate a leader as the Palestinian Arabs are likely to have--and it is unlikely that any Israeli leader will be willing to make the concessions that Olmert was ready to make.

And therein lies the problem:
Be that as it may, I can only hope that somewhere, waiting in the wings, is the Palestinian leader capable of broadly accepting at least Olmert's offer--and without distorting it. Or that some sort of international leadership, Arab or American, will prove ready and able to persuade the Palestinian leadership and public to make the necessary concessions. Otherwise, the chances of a successful two-state breakthrough in the near future were definitely reduced by Abbas' statements.
Read the whole thing.

Abbas knows that with the mantel of "Arab moderate" comes protection from criticism and feels no pressure to change his tactics.

Crossposted on Soccer Dad

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