Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Olmert Reveals What He Offered Abbas

In an interview with Greg Sheridan, Foreign editor of The Australian, Olmert detailed the 4 points of the agreement that he was willing to make with Abbas:
Olmert explains this position to me in unprecedented detail. His offer to Abbas represents a historic watershed and poses a serious question. Can the Palestinian leadership ever accept any offer that an Israeli prime minister could ever reasonably make?
It is important to get Olmert's full account of this offer on the record: "From the end of 2006 until the end of 2008 I think I met with Abu Mazen more often than any Israeli leader has ever met any Arab leader. I met him more than 35 times. They were intense, serious negotiations."
These negotiations took place on two tracks, Olmert says. One was the meetings with the two leaders and their senior colleagues and aides (among them Kadima leader Tzipi Livni on Olmert's side). But Olmert would also have private, one-on-one meetings with Abbas.
"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.
As far as I know, there is nothing that new here in the first point that has not been mentioned before--although now that Obama has made an issue of the settlements, this version of the offer is no longer viable.

The exception is the tunnel: it is unclear just what the difference is between having Palestinian Arabs man the tunnel as opposed to Palestinian sovereignty. It is doubtful whether it would be a distinction that the Palestinians would recognize in any case
"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.
Dividing Jerusalem is something that at one point Olmert repeatedly denied he would do. Having Olmert's homemade UN force in charge would not sit well with Israelis, especially with the strong possibility of clashed between some of the forces themselves. In addition, this solution would likely solidify the claim of the waqf to the Temple Mount by making it that much more difficult for Jews to visit that area. Of course, as Prime Minister, Olmert did not show much concern for Jewish sensitivities in that area.
"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.
While Olmert said he offered 1000 per year, there is no indication that Abbas agreed on this point: it is the most contentious one and the one that Abbas would feel enormous pressure over if he would be seen as compromising--if not betraying--generations of Palestinian Arabs.
"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."
How could Abbas be expected to address security concerns that would emphasize the threat that a second Palestinian state would pose, not to mention the limitations that would necessarily have to be placed on such a state to prevent it from continuing terrorist attacks on Israel.
Read the whole thing.

If anything, Olmert has shed light, in a way that Obama has avoided, on the major hurdles involved in creating a second Palestinian state--and this is without even touching upon the lack of Palestinian leadership, lack of infrastructure, and the corruption.
Without discussing these issues as well--publicly--there can be no real progress.
Crossposted on Soccer Dad

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