The Washington Post reports that Mahmoud Abbas, the man who is president of the Palestinian National Authority and who once wrote a doctoral dissertation denying the Holocaust, received an exceedingly generous peace offer from Ehud Olmert, Israel’s previous PM, last year.
Why did he pass on a chance for peace and for a Palestinian state?
Nonchalantly he answered that the gaps remained too wide.
What did Olmert offer?
97% 95.5% of the West Bank
Right of Return for Palestinian refugees
East Jerusalem though it’s unclear in what form
So what happened?
Abbas says the gaps were too wide. Saeb Erakat explained what gaps were too wide as reported on Al Jazeera and then on Jerusalem Post:
Erekat acknowledged that Israel had presented the Palestinians with a proposal in November 2008 which “talked about Jerusalem and almost 100% of the West Bank,” and he noted that Mahmoud Abbas could have accepted this proposal, just as the “Palestinian negotiators could have given in in 1994, 1998, or 2000.” Intriguingly, Erekat then proceeded to reveal what he considered a “secret”: he explained why the Palestinians had rejected the recent proposals just like the ones offered in 2000/01 during the negotiations in Camp David and Taba. What prevented an agreement every time – at least according to Erekat – was the Israeli request that the Palestinians acknowledge the central importance of the Temple Mount for Jewish history and religion.
It is worthwhile to quote Erekat’s description of a scene at Camp David, when Bill Clinton tried to convince Yassir Arafat to come to an agreement: “You will be the first president of a Palestinian state, within the 1967 borders – give or take, considering the land swap – and East Jerusalem will be the capital of the Palestinian state, but we want you, as a religious man, to acknowledge that the Temple of Solomon is located underneath the Haram Al-Sharif.” According to Erekat, Arafat responded “defiantly” to Clinton: “I will not be a traitor. Someone will come to liberate it after 10, 50, or 100 years. Jerusalem will be nothing but the capital of the Palestinian state, and there is nothing underneath or above the Haram Al-Sharif except for Allah.”
Okay, so when Abbas says cryptically that “the gaps were too wide,” what he means is that if the Palestinians don’t get to be sovereign over the Temple Mount, they are not going to sign a deal.
This is called “lying.”
Lying, for those of you who forget, is what a person does when he denies a Jewish connection to the Land of Israel. Lying is what a person does when he claims the Jews do not have historical, religious or cultural ties to Jerusalem or to the Land of Israel. Of course, these ideas can be found in the Hamas and Fatah charters, and of course they are lies.
Where is the lie here? Well, there is more than one but the big one is that the Palestinians seek a two state solution.
If they sought one, they would already have their own state. As both Camp David and Taba already showed, and now we have the Olmert offer to prove that the first two were not accidental rejections of Israel’s offers, the Palestinians are willing to forego peace in order to make impossible demands. One of the impossible demands is the Right of Return. Yet it appears that Olmert actually signed off on that. My guess is that he offered something similar to the Taba offer Israel made where original refugees (‘1948 refugees”) are permitted to return to Israel.
He offered as much land as he could without cutting into the massive settlement blocs, and its probable that he offered an exchange of land inside Israel for the extra land, as did Barak at Taba and even at Camp David although there the ratio wasn’t 1:1.
But the Palestinians said no. They say no. Even Jerusalem wasn’t enough and even 100% of Gaza and 97% of the West Bank weren’t enough. Of course they’re not enough if you’re seeking to maintain a belligerent position against Israel.
In our meeting Wednesday, Abbas acknowledged that Olmert had shown him a map proposing a Palestinian state on 97 percent of the West Bank — though he complained that the Israeli leader refused to give him a copy of the plan. He confirmed that Olmert “accepted the principle” of the “right of return” of Palestinian refugees — something no previous Israeli prime minister had done — and offered to resettle thousands in Israel. In all, Olmert’s peace offer was more generous to the Palestinians than either that of Bush or Bill Clinton; it’s almost impossible to imagine Obama, or any Israeli government, going further.
Abbas turned it down. “The gaps were wide,” he said.
The Washington Post article lists the smugness of their leadership which is expecting Obama and Netanyahu to clash, ultimately leading to Netanyahu’s fall from power. The Washington Post article also suggests that with Obama in power, the Palestinians believe they can wait.
This is an error in the reporting. The Palestinians have believed for at least the past decade that they can wait. It is their strategy. As in, their long term strategy. If they wait, they believe, they get stronger and Israel gets weaker. Demographics play to their favor and so does a “frustrated” international community.
It’s a very good thing that this article and interview was published. It will hopefully provide some lessons to this administration about who is doing what to whom. it’s one thing to press Israel on certain things, but it’s another to give the Palestinians support when what they seek to do is torpedo any deals in the hopes they can wait things out. The Administration should also demand from the Palestinians that they recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
The lesson for Israel is exactly what Sharon had already figured out: unilateral actions are the only way Israel can move forward. The enemy wants Israel to stay in its current status because it serves their long-term strategy.
UPDATE: Ehud Olmert confirmed that the offer on Jerusalem was to internationalize the city. Now that’s an insanely generous offer.