Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Abbas admits he rejected "out of hand" Olmert’s offer for a Palestinian State

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Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas has finally admitted what has long been known, that in 2008 he rejected an offer from Israel's then Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to create a Palestinian State that would have fulfilled all reasonable expectations from the international community for a two-state peace. This was the third time the Palestinian leadership rejected an offer by Israel for a Palestinian state, following Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak's offers to PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat in 2000 and 2001.

The admission came during interviews with Abbas and Olmert regarding the 2008 peace negotiations, which aired on Israel's Channel 10 TV.

At the 24.05 minute mark of the interview, reporter Raviv Drucker asked Abbas:

"In the map that Olmert presented you, Israel would annex 6.3 percent [of the West Bank] and compensate the Palestinians with 5.8 percent [taken from pre-1967 Israel]. What did you propose in return?"

"I did not agree," Abbas replied. "I rejected it out of hand."

Olmert's offer of a Palestinian State included nearly all of the West Bank, the entire Gaza Strip, a safe passage corridor between Gaza and the West Bank, an offer to withdraw from the Arab neighbourhoods of east Jerusalem and place Jerusalem's Old City under international control, as well as the absorption of around 5000 Palestinian refugees.

Olmert said in the interview, "I told him, ‘Remember my words, it will be 50 years before there will be another Israeli prime minister that will offer you what I am offering you now. Don't miss this opportunity.'"

But Abbas did miss the opportunity, and as a result, so did the Palestinian people.

Abbas said in the interview, that while he supported the idea of territorial swaps, Olmert pressed him to agree to the plan without allowing him to study the proposed map.

"He showed me a map. He didn't give me a map," Abbas said.
"He told me, ‘This is the map' and took it away. I respected his point of view, but how can I sign on something that I didn't receive?"

However, rather than continue the negotiations, which could have included additional discussion of Olmert's map, the Palestinian leadership refused to meet further, making excuses.

In an interview with The Tower in 2013, Olmert stated that following his presentation to Abbas, it was agreed that their map experts should look at the proposal the following day:

"'At the end of the meeting' Olmert recalled this week, ‘we called Saeb Erekat [chief negotiator for PLO] and Shalom [Shalom Turjeman, Olmert's diplomatic adviser]. We asked them to meet the following day, Wednesday, together with map experts, in order to arrive at a final formula for the border between Palestine and Israel.'"

However, the meeting never happened, not then and not as long as Olmert remained in office, a full six months later (Olmert's offer came on September 16, 2008, he left office on April 14, 2009).

"that Wednesday, Erekat called Turjeman and said they could not meet to finalize the peace deal because they ‘had forgotten that Abbas had to go to Amman!' Erekat said they would meet the following week. ‘I've been waiting ever since,' Olmert said with a smile."

So it seems that Abbas' rejection of the offer was clearly not about Olmert's refusal to let Abbas take the map with him - rather the Palestinian leadership decided not to continue negotiations based on Olmert's proposal. And indeed, Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat came close to confirming as much to al-Jazeera in 2009, describing Abbas' response to the offer as follows:

"Abu Mazen... answered with defiance, saying: ‘I am not in a marketplace or a bazaar. I came to demarcate the borders of Palestine - the June 4, 1967 borders - without detracting a single inch, and without detracting a single stone from Jerusalem, or from the holy Christian and Muslim places.' This is why the Palestinian negotiators did not sign."

Abbas also said that he felt Olmert's offer to accept a symbolic number of Palestinian refugees into Israel did not resolve the issue. Palestinians have long claimed a "right of return" for Palestinians refugees and their descendents, which today number around 5 million. Palestinians are the only group of people whose descendants are also classified as "refugees" under the UN.

Commenting on Abbas' admission, Middle East analyst Elliott Abrams believes that the "facts are in":

"The interviews (including with Olmert) contain detail that will be of great interest to many people, but that's the bottom line. Abbas walked away, just as Yasser Arafat had walked away at Camp David in 2000.

There are arguments, and I analyze them in my book Tested By Zion, about why Abbas said no: he was waiting to see the policies of a new U.S. president about to take office, or did not wish to sign with the lame duck Olmert, for example. Others argue that Abbas lacked the legitimacy, or the guts, to sign a deal that Hamas would immediately have attacked, and that like Arafat he had never prepared Palestinians for the compromises peace would require. That is speculation. What is not speculation is that Israel's prime minister made a peace offer, and the Palestinian leader-head of the Fatah Party, the PLO, and the Palestinian Authority-rejected it. Those who wish to blame Israel for the continuing lack of progress in achieving a comprehensive peace agreement will presumably pay no attention to this interview, but the facts are in."

Meanwhile, Veteran Associated Press reporter Mark Lavie argues that there are reasons that Abbas' revelations concerning the 2008 offer have received little international attention - and that he himself wanted to write about Olmert's peace offer in 2009, but was banned from doing so by his editors:

"I would have expected a news alert and a bulletin as soon as these words escaped Abbas's lips, and then a full story, and then an analysis. I'm still waiting for any of that, but I'm not holding my breath. If they wouldn't let me write about it in real time, claiming Israel never made such an offer, why would they write about it now, six years later? It doesn't fit the accepted pattern that Israel is the intransigent side and the Palestinians are always the helpless victims."

 

Sharyn Mittelman

 

 

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