More than four years after he offered the Palestinians a state with a sovereign share of Jerusalem and 100% of the West Bank, with some one-for-one land swaps, former prime minister Ehud Olmert accused PA President Mahmoud Abbas of lacking the guts to take the deal.
In an interview with The Tower website, Olmert said he was familiar with all “the arguments” that the Palestinians have put forward for failing to seize the best offer Israel has ever made for a permanent accord, but that the bottom line is that Abbas is no hero and that the Palestinians were afraid.
“I know all of their arguments,” said Olmert. “They say that Abu Mazen agreed with [George W.] Bush that [chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb] Erakat would meet with [Olmert’s diplomatic adviser Shalom] Turjeman in early January in Washington, but that was a few days before Bush left the White House and we received no such invitation. They claim that it was because I was finished politically, so [Abbas] hesitated. But that is an excuse after the fact. They [the Palestinians] were very worried. Abu Mazen (Abbas) is not a big hero. They were afraid. Erakat was worried. In the end they thought that maybe after the American elections they would get more from President Obama.”
In the interview, Olmert reconfirms that he was ready to relinquish sovereignty in the Old City, divide Jerusalem, and give the Palestinians the entire West Bank with one-for-one land swaps to retain major settlements. He also goes into new details about his proposal for resolving Palestinian refugee demands.
Olmert told Abbas that he was willing to absorb 5,000 refugees over five years, inside the Green Line.
“Why 5,000? It may sound kind of strange, but during the talks between Rice and Abu Mazen he said that he needed the settlement of tens of thousands of refugees inside Israel, and that Ehud Barak had been ready to take in 100,000. She told him that he could get the same number of people as could fit inside the Muqata’a at any given moment. We estimated that number to be about 5,000. So that’s how I came up with the number.
“I’m telling you, if Abu Mazen had been ready to sign on an agreement that would require our absorbing 10,000-15,000 over five years, I would have agreed,” the former prime minister told The Tower.
Abbas’s hasty sketch of Olmert’s proposal, which includes no place names, indicates that Olmert was apparently willing to more or less return to the pre-1967 lines, while maintaining the Gush Etzion settlement bloc south of Jerusalem, the settlement city of Ma’aleh Adumim to the east, and a slice of territory that apparently would encompass the large settlement of Ariel in Samaria. In exchange for expanding Israeli sovereignty to those areas, Israel would have given up some of its own land to the new Palestinian state.
According to the website Walla, Olmert envisaged relinquishing Israeli territory on a one-for-one basis to the Palestinians in areas including near Afula; near Tirat Zvi, south of Beit She’an; north of Jerusalem; in the Judean Desert; and in the Lachish area. He also endorsed a tunnel route to link Gaza and the West Bank.
Olmert, as he has subsequently confirmed, was also prepared to divide Jerusalem into Israeli- and Palestinian-controlled neighborhoods, and to relinquish Israeli sovereignty on the Temple Mount and the entire Old City. He proposed that the “Holy Basin” be overseen instead by a five-member, non-sovereign international trusteeship, comprising Israel, the PA, Jordan, the US and Saudi Arabia.
After a September 16, 2008, meeting where Olmert’s far-reaching proposal was offered to Abbas, the former prime minister tried to formalize an agreement immediately.
“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,” Olmert said.
Erakat called Turjeman and said they could not meet because they “had forgotten that Abbas had to go to Amman!” Erakat said they would meet the following week.
“I am still waiting for a phone call from him,” the former prime minister said this week, referring to the PA president.