Israel’s former prime minister Ehud Olmert said Friday that if the current Israeli leadership could create the same kind of trusting relationship he built up with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, a deal along the lines he proposed five years ago could be possible.
In the best case scenario, Abbas would take the deal, Olmert said. But if Abbas rejected it, Israel’s international position would improve drastically because it would be seen to have genuinely sought a viable agreement, he said.
Olmert — who stepped down from the prime ministership to fight a number of legal cases but has not ruled out a return to politics — said he still didn’t know why Abbas had failed to accept the peace terms he offered in late 2008, but said Abbas has since said that a deal could have been done had Olmert remained in power for another three months.
Olmert said he respected current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and believed Netanyahu truly “wants to reach an accord,” but that the prime minister’s positions were far from the possible basis of a viable deal. “His suggestions are a vast distance from what everybody understands is the basis on which an accord can be reached,” said Olmert.
Olmert also said the Palestinian were sick of looking out of their homes “and seeing Israeli guns directed at them,” as had been the case “for almost 50 years.”
Relating to some of the core disputes at the heart of the current Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, Olmert said the Israeli security establishment had drawn up plans that would enable an Israeli withdrawal from the Jordan Valley, with provisions for emergency action should enemy forces threaten that eastern border. Netanyahu has been insisting on a long-term IDF presence in the Jordan Valley, while Abbas has said troops could stay for no more than five years after a deal is signed.
Olmert also said he believed the issue of Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state would not prevent an accord if most other terms were agreed. If this issue was one of the few remaining points, said Olmert, “this point will be solved to our satisfaction.”
And he said that, under his terms, 80,000 settlers would have had to leave their homes, in settlements in what would become Palestinian sovereign areas, but that “they could all have been resettled in areas we were keeping [elsewhere] in Judea and Samaria.”
Olmert said he had told Abbas that Israel would never accept the demand for a “right of return” for Palestinian refugees, and that Abbas once told him, “I don’t want to change the nature of the state of Israel” — reflecting an apparent acknowledgement that Israel could not be flooded with large numbers of Palestinian refugees and their descendants. Olmert said he also told Abbas he would not let Palestinians enter Israel on the basis of family reunification — since, he joked to Abbas, “every family with you is 50,000 people.” Rather, Olmert agreed to accept 1,000 Palestinians per year, for five years, as “individual humanitarian cases.”
Olmert’s offer, as previously confirmed by the former prime minister, provided the Palestinians a state with a sovereign share of Jerusalem and 100% of the West Bank, with one-for-one land swaps. Olmert was ready to relinquish sovereignty in the Old City, in favor of an international trusteeship.
Abbas made a hasty sketch of Olmert’s proposal, which includes no place names, when they met in September 2008 to discuss it. The sketch indicates that Olmert was 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.
Making that offer, Olmert said Friday night, was “perhaps the hardest moment of my life.”
Crucial to his progress with Abbas, he said, was building up a relationship of trust and mutual confidence. He said he had met with Abbas 36 times and discussed the most sensitive national and personal issues with him. He said Abbas was “shocked” by the generosity of his peace proposal.
“I said, initial it now,” Olmert recalled, “and in two days we’ll be at the UN and we’ll get the whole world to agree to it.” But Abbas said, “I need to have some things explained to me” about aspects of the map and its terms, Olmert said. The offer was not accepted, and the opportunity passed. “I don’t know why he didn’t say yes,” said Olmert.
He hinted that “certain Israeli sources” advised Abbas not to sign — an apparent reference to oft-repeated reports that Tzipi Livni, the current Israeli justice minister and chief peace negotiator who took over from Olmert as head of their Kadima party when he resigned, encouraged Abbas not to accept the Olmert deal. Olmert did not mention Livni by name.
Olmert also lambasted hawkish Israeli politicians who in recent days have slammed Abbas as an anti-Semite, and who have also castigated Secretary of State John Kerry over his peace efforts. He noted Kerry’s “100 percent voting record” of support for Israel and asked, “Is there anyone in the whole world who could be more supportive” of Israel? Kerry, said Olmert, is “our deepest friend.”