Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has accused the former US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice of fabricating a crucial conversation between them that she quoted in her memoirs, concerning his failure to accept prime minister Ehud Olmert’s 2008 peace offer.
In her book “No Higher Honor” published last year, Rice describes how she traveled to Ramallah in May 2008 and “sketched out the details” of Olmert’s offer, which covered West Bank territorial arrangements, security issues, the division of Jerusalem, and a proposal regarding Palestinian refugees that provided for a very limited number to enter Israel. Abbas started negotiating immediately, she wrote, and she quoted him saying: “I can’t tell four million Palestinians that only five thousand of them can go home.”
In an interview broadcast Saturday night on Israel’s Channel 2 news, however, Abbas flatly denied saying anything of the kind. Indeed, he said no such conversation took place.
Asked about the “four million” comment, he said, “I absolutely did not say that.”
Was the secretary lying, the interviewer asked? “I’m not calling her a liar,” Abbas responded. “I am saying that we never had that conversation.”
Similarly, in the same interview, Abbas denied making another key comment relating to the Olmert proposal, in this case to the Washington Post journalist Jackson Diehl. In a May 2009 interview with Abbas, Diehl quoted the PA leader as saying, of the Olmert offer, that “the gaps were wide.”
“I didn’t say that,” Abbas said in the Channel 2 interview.
Abbas told Channel 2 he wanted to advance peace efforts with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and strongly believed in peace. He ducked a direct question on whether he was ready to sign an “end of conflict” accord, but said he would resort to UN recognition of Palestine only if there was “no diplomatic horizon” and stressed that he was “not issuing ultimatums.”
He said he had no preconditions for talks with Netanyahu, but at the same time demanded the release of 123 prisoners jailed by Israel since before the Oslo process began, and said he shared the stance of the “whole world” in demanding a halt to settlement expansion.
He said the “true” Palestinian refugee numbers were that 950,000 had lost their homes when Israel was established, according to UNRWA, and that there were now five million refugees “and I’m one of them.” He urged Netanyahu: “Let’s discuss it. Let’s solve it together.”
Asked whether settlers who wished to do so would be able to remain inside a Palestinian state, Abbas first said this would be a function of the “land swaps” involved in an accord, but then added, “I don’t oppose any Jew who wants to live with me.”
Abbas, in the interview, also ruled out the possibility of another “armed intifada.” And asked, in the context of the rise of Islamist movements in the region, whether he feared a Hamas victory in the next elections, he said, “If that is the will of the people, I will accept it.”
In response to Abbas’s comments on the peace process, the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement: “Till now, Abbas never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity. Even after PM Netanyahu made unprecedented steps such as freezing construction in the settlements, Abbas kept on refusing to hold talks. Even now, PM Netanyahu calls upon president Abbas to meet soon in order to promote the peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.”