Just a short while ago we discussed Olmert’s insanely generous offer of a state to the Palestinians. That information was provided by none other than Mahmoud Abbas, the President of the Palestinian National Authority. Well, it appears he wasn’t being entirely accurate in his representations of the offer. Ehud Olmert has recently been interviewed by Newsweek and he sets the record straight.

At the end of Olmert’s term he tried one last maneuver in an effort to secure a legacy. Olmert told me he met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in September 2008 and unfurled a map of Israel and the Palestinian territories. He says he offered Abbas 93.5 to 93.7 percent of the Palestinian territories, along with a land swap of 5.8 percent and a safe-passage corridor from Gaza to the West Bank that he says would make up the rest. The Holy Basin of Jerusalem would be under no sovereignty at all and administered by a consortium of Saudis, Jordanians, Israelis, Palestinians and Americans. Regarding refugees, Olmert says he rejected the right of return and instead offered, as a “humanitarian gesture,” a small number of returnees, although “smaller than the Palestinians wanted—a very, very limited number.”

Hmmm, the Old City as an international domain…now who was it who advocated that point of view?

Olmert and an aide also clarified that the Americans did indeed have an agreement in place with Israel regarding “natural growth” in certain settlements:

In 2003, a team of Israelis from the prime minister’s office held a series of secret meetings with their counterparts in the U.S. National Security Council in both Washington and Jerusalem, according to the Olmert aide. The talks were designed to discuss formulas for continued building within the existing blocs. The Olmert aide said the group agreed that in return there would be no new settlements built, no expropriation of additional Palestinian land, no construction beyond the “built-up line” and no economic incentives from Israel to the settlers. The exact details were kept secret to avoid antagonizing the settlers or the Palestinians. “We did it quietly, and it worked for eight years,” said the Israeli source. He was incensed at Clinton’s recent comments. “I wrote protocols for all the meetings,” the Olmert aide told me. “I have records.” A former Bush administration official involved in the talks confirmed the Israeli account.

Today, Avigdor Lieberman told Ms. Clinton that Israel cannot stop construction inside settlements as per previous agreements.

Yesterday, Ahmed Qurei, who was a pivotal player at Camp David and has always been a key player in negotiations with Israel and the Palestinians proclaimed to the media that any negotiations must resume where they left off. In other words, where the Palestinians said no to Olmert’s generous offer. Olmert’s generous offer, of course, is based on Barak’s generous offer at Taba. In both cases the Palestinians said “no.” In both cases, it appears the will not be willing to forego sovereignty over the Temple Mount, recognition of Israel as a Jewish state with historic links to the Land of Israel, or give up the idea that any Palestinian descendant of 1948 refugees may move into Israel.

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  • I’d say this is probably not good for those who share your view, tm. Olmert is toxic – if he advocates a point of view, it is more likely to decline in popularity than the other way around.

  • Olmert may be toxic but he’s not stupid and his politics are born of the Right even if they shifted toward towards the center. He sat there and he thought and thought and thought about how he could solve this unsolvable conflict. After much thinking and knowing far more than either of us about the negotiations, Israel’s security situation, the politicians involved and the settlers, he concluded that the only way out of the impasse is to share the Old City. The Palestinians may not have come to that conclusion yet, but it is the same conclusion the UN came up with 62 years ago because there is no solution other than sharing unless you’re going to keep the conflict going.

    So it may be that Olmert isn’t the person who is going to sell this, but Livni sat by his side and must have given her consent to this plan as did Mofaz (blast him!) and possibly even Barak. Netanyahu is soon going to discover that Obama is going to dispense with some of his untenable positions and push him back to where Olmert was. He may balk and prefer to fight, but that is where this is headed. Obama is not planning to sit around and let time pass, he is on this while he’s got the political capital and Israel will have to play along. The Palestinians may not, but Israel does not have much choice.

  • We’ve gone through this before, but if a government actually attempts to cede the Old City – there will be civil war. No one will remember Amona. This is not Jenin, or even Hebron – it is the very reason for Israel’s existence.

  • They are not “ceding” it. They are sharing it. That’s all the difference in the world. Consider that we already have a Waqf controlling the Muslim sites and Churches controlling the Christian sites. The only difference is that instead of Israeli soldiers controlling the place, there will be Israeli police together with Palestinian police together with police from other countries patrolling the place and instead of a Jewish mayor who controls it, there will be a Jewish mayor who controls the Jewish areas of Jerusalem, a Palestinian mayor who controls the Arab areas of Jerusalem and an American ex-general or ex-ambassador who runs the Old City.

    And for this you get to have peace. Tell me exactly what the problem is. That we can’t say “it’s ours?” Right. It’s everybody’s.

  • Regarding the current situation – you are correct, and we have the Rabbinate to blame for that. It should rectified.

    Sharing? No. The goal of Zionism is Jewish sovereignty, true independence (which has not yet been achieved, btw). According to what you’re saying, what’s wrong with a binational state, in theory? After all, we’d be sharing the land.

  • No. I am all for Jewish self-determination. I am also against losing the Old City of Jerusalem. Sharing holy sites is already happening there. We are changing very little but removing a major source of friction. In fact, possibly the biggest source of friction.

    As for the goal of Zionism, it is the establishment of a Jewish state for the Jewish people. That is its primary goal. Goal 1A is to do so in the Land of Israel, the historic homeland of the Jewish people. Goal 1B is to make it a democratic state where the Jewish nation enjoys its self-determination thanks to its majority vote. None of those goals contradict sharing the Old City of Jerusalem. We have not said for 2000 years, “Next year we control Jerusalem.” We have said, “Next year in Jerusalem” or “Next year in Jerusalem the rebuilt.”

    Again, I ask you to consider that the holy sites are already under the official control of their respective religions. Jews live in their Quarter, Muslims in theirs and to a lesser degree Christians in theirs. Why must we control this? Why not let this pocket of Earth, which is indeed so important to three religions, not just ours, become a shared space?

  • “Goal 1A is to do so in the Land of Israel, the historic homeland of the Jewish people.”

    True. First and foremost in Jerusalem. And self-determination contradicts sharing Jerusalem. Jerusalem would not be part of the Jewish state.

    And “removing a major source of friction” in the manner which you are advocating is giving to terrorism. If they would not attack – there would be no friction, no reason to even discuss Jerusalem.

    “Why not let this pocket of Earth, which is indeed so important to three religions, not just ours, become a shared space?”

    That is exactly the language others use in favor of a binational state.

    And it’s not about religion – it’s about national self-determination. Self-determination and sharing, in this case, are mutually exclusive.

    More than anything else – Jerusalem is a red line. No, I don’t mean Wadi Joz and Abu Dis. I mean the Old City and Mount of Olives. People gave their lives for that – and if a PM would dare to propose taking a step back on Jewish sovereignty over that area – more people will lose their lives in opposition. As I said, remember Amona? Now multiply that by thousands.

    Holy sites are under official control of other religions – not respective religions. If that were the case, Jews would control Temple Mount. But the next step is not further relinquishment of these sites – but to RESTORE Jewish sovereignty. Management other religions’ sites (e.g. Church of Holy Sepulchre) is a possibility.

    All of this not to mention that I don’t trust ANYONE else in the least. Even under the Israel the Waqf has been digging and destroying evidence of Jewish presence far before Mohamed allegedly took off to the heavens from a part of the world that was not under Muslim control while he was still alive. So I should trust the Waqf to have full control with not even a semblance of oversight? No, thanks.

  • The Waqf wouldn’t have full control. They would have the same control as now.

    And the argument that compares what I’m advocating to creating a binational state doesn’t hold water. It didn’t in the eyes of the UN in 1947 either. The Old City IS different.

    Finally, I realize you’re not advocating violence but I want to be clear that if an Israeli majority of voters supports an outcome such as Olmert offered and that I’ve been prescribing, then the fear of those who might raise arms should not play any role here. Israel is a democracy.

  • The Waqf shouldn’t have any control over the Temple Mount – that is a Jewish religious site – and has been for longer than Islam or Christianity have existed. The Waqf should also not be recognized by any other virulently anti-Zionist organization.

    And I don’t trust the government. The ‘disengagement’ was carried out in very anti-democratic fashion – the system allows it. The only way to truly decide on the basis of what people think about an issue such as this is to carry out a referendum (as was promised in 2005 btw…). I have no hard data, but I would be very surprised if it would be anything but an overwhelming majority against this idea.

    In any case, the feasibility of any plan needs to be taken into consideration before adopting it. Just like Jerusalem wasn’t taken in 1947-49 because of tactical concerns (as well as a cost in lives during a very precariously won war), so should any other factors that will be in existence be considered. One can’t just ignore what will happen. Or, to put in your terms – replacing external friction by ignoring the (potential?) internal friction is foolhardy.

  • Shared control over the Old City and the Temple Mount would basically give credence to the excuses that Arafat, Abbas, etc. have been telling for years — IOW, imagine a future where Jews build something in the Old City but their digging is a secret Jewish plan to destroy the foundations of some sacred Muslim site that’s 500 m away, so the imams incite a huge riot over the issue and why should the Jews be so uppity over the whole thing seeing as their Temple was located in Nablus anyway. And this isn’t some crazy fantasy, this is more or less what has been happening with the re-construction of the Mughrabi Bridge. You can station all the international monitors you want, and none of them will lift a finger to protect Jewish rights in the Old City when faced with this kind of incident.

  • Barry, you may be right and mechanisms to protect against this will have to be in place.

    However, both you and LB are acknowledging that a certain status quo already exists anyway. Why do you suppose both the Israeli government and the IAA have demurred when faced with Waqf obstructionism over these many years? Because they are afraid of the consequences of appearing to harm Muslim interests. It’s not a propaganda move, it’s a security move.

    Changing this status quo in a direction that gives Israel more protection is not going to happen by giving Israel more rights there. You cannot change the fact that for many Muslims, this is an important site.

  • Except that Jews already recognize that it’s an important site for Muslims. I don’t think anybody on the Israeli side is disputing that. The Palestinians don’t recognize, or don’t seem to care, that these are also important sites for Jews, and they’ve been conditioned to continue believing exactly that thanks to what their religious and political leaders have been telling them for decades. They are the ones who need to face facts, not us, and unfortunately this mutation of historical and cultural facts is spreading beyond the Middle East. We all saw Obama speak in Cairo and paint Israel as a country that materialized out of thin air after WWII.

    Israel doesn’t to be given more rights in the Old City. The point is that in the history of Jerusalem, there has probably never been more religious/cultural security and freedom for ALL peoples than there is right now, and it’s been that way since 1967. Israel and the Western should think more about this and less about trying to score propaganda points with Muslim leaders who are the masters of playing propaganda games.