Rebutting Abbas, Condoleezza Rice confirms her account of their 2008 refugee conversation

PA President had denied key rejectionist quote in former secretary’s book; she stands by it. Washington Post writer also stands by quote denied by PA chief

Raphael Ahren is a former diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas hosts US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Ramallah on June 15, 2008 (photo credit: Omar Rashidi/Flash90)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas hosts US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Ramallah on June 15, 2008 (photo credit: Omar Rashidi/Flash90)

Former US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice on Tuesday confirmed the accuracy of her account of a 2008 meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in which he had told her why he couldn’t accept then-Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert’s terms for a permanent Israeli-Palestinian peace accord. In an interview over the weekend, Abbas had denied that the conversation Rice described and quoted in her memoir had taken place at all.

“Dr. Rice stands by her account of the conversation and what she wrote in her book,” Rice’s chief of staff, Georgia Godfrey, told The Times of Israel.

During an interview with Israel’s Channel 2 news that aired Saturday night, Abbas denied a crucial passage in Rice’s memoirs about his failure to accept Olmert’s peace offer.

In “No Higher Honor,” Rice records making a visit to Ramallah in May 2008, immediately after Olmert had detailed the offer to her, during which she “sketched out the details” of the Israeli proposal, which included an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank with one-for-one territorial swaps, the division of Jerusalem between Israel and a new Palestinian state, and an international trusteeship to control the Old City. Olmert suggested symbolic and practical solutions to the Palestinian refugee issue, and offered to allow a limited number of Palestinian refugees to live in Israel, being the first Israeli prime minister to do so.

Regarding the refugee question, Abbas said according to Rice’s account: “I can’t tell four million Palestinians that only five thousand of them can go home.”

During Saturday’s interview, however, Abbas denied making this statement, adding that no such conversation between him and Rice ever took place. When the interviewer, Danny Kushmaro, asked Abbas specifically about the quote in Rice’s book, he responded: “I absolutely did not say that.”

Was Rice lying, Kushmaro, then asked. “I’m not calling her a liar,” the Palestinian president replied. “I am saying that we never had that conversation.”

In the same interview, Abbas also denied making a statement attributed to him by a senior US journalist. In 2009, the deputy editorial page editor of The Washington Post, Jackson Diehl, wrote that he met Abbas and discussed with him Olmert’s 2008 peace proposal and why the Palestinian side turned it down. “The gaps were wide,” Abbas said, according to Diehl’s account at the time.

“I didn’t say that,” Abbas said in Saturday’s interview when Kushmaro asked him about that quote.

But Diehl, like Rice, insists the quotes in his piece were accurate. “I stand behind the 2009 column I wrote about the meeting that my colleague Fred Hiatt and I had with Mahmoud Abbas, and all of the quotations it contains,” Diehl told The Times of Israel.

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