Former prime minister Ehud Olmert said Sunday that the Bush administration had assured him that the United States would be willing to absorb some 100,000 Palestinian refugees immediately as American citizens, should Israel reach a permanent settlement with the Palestinian Authority.Now, Former National Security Council member Elliot Abrams is saying that it couldn't be:
The former premier told a Geneva Initiative conference in Tel Aviv that during negotiations with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in 2008 he had offered a solution to the refugee problem that would have been in line with the Arab League peace plan and promised that any measures would be the result of a coordinated agreement.
“The president knew, as everyone in the White House knew, that no president has the power to make such a commitment. We have immigration laws and they don’t allow that kind of move by a president. He would have had to ask Congress to change our laws. Moreover, we would never have committed to a specific number anyway, nor did Olmert ask us to or raise that number.”(Interestingly, Senator Jon Kyl proposed an amendment in March 2009 "to provide that no funds may be used to resettle Palestinians from Gaza into the United States"--it was proposed on March 6 and was withdrawn 4 days later.)
Apparently Olmert’s office has responded by claiming that Abrams is simply unaware of the commitments that had been made by other members of the Bush administration.
Maybe so. In any case, Olmert never actually said that Bush himself made this promise. On the other hand, Olmert has no response to the point Abrams makes that there was no legal way to do what Olmert claims Bush officials were promising. And why didn't Olmert mention this in his November interview that appeared in The Australian?
What is more interesting to me is what else Olmert said:
Olmert also said that the U.S. administration under Bush had accepted the "eight-point document" drafted by Israel's defense establishment, which included Israel's central security interests.That's not exactly how it is presented in his interview in The Australian:
"Bush promised to pass this along to the Obama administration," Olmert said. "The Palestinians recognized this document and they were not opposed to a single one of its points."
"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 can Olmert claim that the Arabs "were not opposed to a single one of its points," if in fact once they were faced with the plan they never came back?
Olmert believes that, like Camp David a decade earlier, this was an enormous opportunity lost: "I said `this is the offer. Sign it and we can immediately get support from America, from Europe, from all over the world'. I told him (Abbas) he'd never get anything like this again from an Israeli leader for 50 years. I said to him, `do you want to keep floating forever - like an astronaut in space - or do you want a state?'
"To this day we should ask Abu Mazen to respond to this plan. If they (the Palestinians) say no, there's no point negotiating."
Obviously, Olmert is trying to preserve whatever he can of his legacy--and his best chance of that is to be able to claim that he made great strides in the search for peace.
But it seems that Abbas cheated Olmert in the same way that Arafat cheated Bill Clinton.
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Technorati Tag: Olmert and Mideast Peace Talks and Bush.