Sunday, October 30, 2011

"Palestine Papers" Refute Abbas Claim He Negotiated With Olmert In Good Faith

Abbas claims that when he met with then-Prime Minister Olmert, peace between the Palestinian Arabs and Israel was almost at hand.

But is Abbas telling the truth?

Abbas claims in an interview that if only Olmert had stayed in office, he and Olmert could have come to an agreement:
Abbas also contended that he and former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert were "very, very close" to reaching a peace agreement in 2008, before the Israeli leader left office under a cloud of corruption allegations.

"It was a very good opportunity," he said. "If he stayed two, three months, I believe that time we could have concluded an agreement."

He confirmed Olmert's account that the Israeli leader was prepared to withdraw from 93.5 percent of the West Bank. The Palestinians, Abbas added, responded by offering to let Israel retain 1.9 percent of the West Bank. [emphasis added]
While it is nice to see Abbas confirm Olmert's account, keep in mind that Olmert also says that Abbas walked away from their peace talks and never came back.

 In an interview in Novermber 2009, Olmert says he met with Abbas on September 16, 2008 --and made the following proposals to Abbas:
o 1967 Borders: 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 would have involved Israel claiming about 6.4 per cent of Palestinian territory in the West Bank. 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. Olmert proposed a safe passage between the West Bank and Gaza--a tunnel fully controlled by the Palestinians but not under Palestinian sovereignty, otherwise it would have cut the state of Israel in two.

o Jerusalem. Olmert agreed 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.

o Palestinian refugees. Olmert told Abbas he would never agree to a right of return. Instead,  on a humanitarian basis Israel would 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. Olmert suggested 1000 per year. In addition, there would be an international fund that would compensate Palestinians for their suffering. 

o 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.[emphasis added]
According to Olmert, faced with the possibility of peace--Abbas ran and never came back:
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.
From Olmert's account we see that the failure of talks between Olmert and Abbas is because Abbas failed to meet Olmert again and did not respond to Olmert's offer at all.

But there is further evidence that Abbas is not telling the truth.

More to the point, Abbas's version is contradicted by Al Jazeera's"Palestinian Papers." On January 23, Al Jazeera announced it had access to documents that would give new insight to the peace talks:
Over the last several months, Al Jazeera has been given unhindered access to the largest-ever leak of confidential documents related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. There are nearly 1,700 files, thousands of pages of diplomatic correspondence detailing the inner workings of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. These documents – memos, e-mails, maps, minutes from private meetings, accounts of high level exchanges, strategy papers and even power point presentations – date from 1999 to 2010.

The material is voluminous and detailed; it provides an unprecedented look inside the continuing negotiations involving high-level American, Israeli, and Palestinian Authority officials.
These documents contain revelations about Abbas's September meeting with Olmert--the Al Jazeera "Palestine Papers" indicate that Abbas's claim about a Palestinian counter-offer to Olmert is bogus:
Christians for Fair Witness on the Middle East has carefully reviewed the "Palestine Papers," which Al Jazeera says are Palestinian Authority documents memorializing a decade of Israeli/Palestinian peace talks. If these documents are authentic, they offer significant clues to one reason why the process has thus far failed.

Sr. Ruth Lautt, O.P., Fair Witness National Director, says "What the documents from the post-Annapolis talks reveal is that members of the respective negotiating teams shared pragmatic talk about borders, Jerusalem and refugees. While there was not complete agreement on core issues, there was hope of reaching a compromise. A 'Palestine Paper' dated August 31, 2008, memorializes Israeli Prime Minister Olmert's peace proposal package. But there is no indication that Palestinian President Abbas ever came back with a counteroffer."

The "Palestine Papers" reflect claims about an alleged counteroffer, but no evidence that one was ever relayed to Olmert. A December 14, 2008 memo shows Saeb Erekat telling Israeli negotiator Udi Deckel that the Palestinian counteroffer had been 1.9%. It appears, however, that 1.9% was a number Palestinian negotiators had been discussing with the Israeli negotiators prior to the Olmert offer. And, as Deckel points out, "discussions on territory" between negotiators do not constitute a leader's response to a comprehensive peace offer.

An internal Palestinian document reveals that Abbas never intended to respond to the offer at his September 16, 2008 meeting with Olmert, which he regarded as merely "ceremonial." A memo drafted in preparation for that meeting states:
In order to avoid the blame game, the President [Abbas] today is going with a positive attitude, where he will ask more questions from Olmert on his offer, and he will tell him that the Palestinians will respond later.
There is no record of a subsequent response from Abbas.

Rev. Thomas Prinz, pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Leesburg, Virginia, notes that "Talk amongst negotiators is very different from an actual peace proposal agreed upon by leaders." [emphasis added]
Putting aside Abbas's lack of seriousness in the peace negotiations, the Arab offer to allow Israel to retain 1.9% of the West Bank was not a response to Olmert--as Abbas claims--but actually came earlier.

Abbas's claim of a counter-offer is just an attempt to hide the fact that when faced with Olmert's very generous offer, Abbas did not respond at all and never returned to the negotiating table.

A habit we have seen Abbas is very prone to.
Abbas did not negotiate with Israel in good faith then.
And he is not negotiating with Israel in good faith now.

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