In een lang interview in The Australian legt oud-premier Olmert van Israel nog eens precies uit wat hij Abbas vorig jaar heeft aangeboden, en zegt hij, ondanks Abbas' afwijzing van dit aanbod, nog steeds in zijn vredeswil te geloven. In tegenstelling tot Australië wordt Olmerts regeertermijn in Europa niet geassocieerd met dit vredesaanbod, maar met corruptieschandalen, de Libanon Oorlog en de Gaza Oorlog. Het negeren van dit serieuze bod door onze media is verbluffend en oorverdovend.
(Excerpt from The Australian)
But Olmert's term in office is best remembered for the extensive negotiations, and final peace offer that he undertook with Abbas.
Olmert explains this position to me in unprecedented detail. His offer to Abbas represents a historic watershed and poses a serious question. Can the Palestinian leadership ever accept any offer that an Israeli prime minister could ever reasonably make?
It is important to get Olmert's full account of this offer on the record: "From the end of 2006 until the end of 2008 I think I met with Abu Mazen more often than any Israeli leader has ever met any Arab leader. I met him more than 35 times. They were intense, serious negotiations."
These negotiations took place on two tracks, Olmert says. One was the meetings with the two leaders and their senior colleagues and aides (among them Kadima leader Tzipi Livni on Olmert's side). But Olmert would also have private, one-on-one meetings with Abbas.
"On the 16th of September, 2008, I presented him (Abbas) with a comprehensive plan. It was based on the following principles.
One, there would be a territorial solution to the conflict on the basis of the 1967 borders with minor modifications on both sides. Israel will claim part of the West Bank where there have been demographic changes over the last 40 years."
This approach by Olmert would have allowed Israel to keep the biggest Jewish settlement blocks which are mainly now suburbs of Jerusalem, but would certainly have entailed other settlers having to leave Palestinian territory and relocate to Israel.
In total, Olmert says, this would have involved Israel claiming about 6.4 per cent of Palestinian territory in the West Bank: "It might be a fraction more, it might be a fraction less, but in total it would be about 6.4 per cent. Israel would claim all the Jewish areas of Jerusalem. All the lands that before 1967 were buffer zones between the two populations would have been split in half. In return there would be a swap of land (to the Palestinians) from Israel as it existed before 1967.
"I showed Abu Mazen how this would work to maintain the contiguity of the Palestinian state. I also proposed a safe passage between the West Bank and Gaza. It would have been a tunnel fully controlled by the Palestinians but not under Palestinian sovereignty, otherwise it would have cut the state of Israel in two.
"No 2 was the issue of Jerusalem. This was a very sensitive, very painful, soul-searching process. While I firmly believed that historically, and emotionally, Jerusalem was always the capital of the Jewish people, I was ready that the city should be shared. Jewish neighbourhoods would be under Jewish sovereignty, Arab neighbourhoods would be under Palestinian sovereignty, so it could be the capital of a Palestinian state.
"Then there was the question of the holy basin within Jerusalem, the sites that are holy to Jews and Muslims, but not only to them, to Christians as well. I would never agree to an exclusive Muslim sovereignty over areas that are religiously important to Jews and Christians. So there would be an area of no sovereignty, which would be jointly administered by five nations, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the Palestinian state, Israel and the United States.
"Third was the issue of Palestinian refugees." This issue has often been a seeming deal-breaker. The Palestinians insist that all Palestinians who left Israel - at or near the time of its founding - and all their spouses and descendants, should be able to return to live in Israel proper. This could be more than a million people. Olmert, like other Israeli prime ministers, could never agree to this: "I think Abu Mazen understood there was no chance Israel would become the homeland of the Palestinian people. The Palestinian state was to be the homeland of the Palestinian people. So the question was how the claimed attachment of the Palestinian refugees to their original places could be recognised without bringing them in. I told him I would never agree to a right of return. Instead, we would agree on a humanitarian basis to accept a certain number every year for five years, on the basis that this would be the end of conflict and the end of claims. I said to him 1000 per year. I think the Americans were entirely with me.
"In addition, we talked about creating an international fund that would compensate Palestinians for their suffering. I was the first Israeli prime minister to speak of Palestinian suffering and to say that we are not indifferent to that suffering.
"And four, there were security issues." Olmert says he showed Abbas a map, which embodied all these plans. Abbas wanted to take the map away. Olmert agreed, so long as they both signed the map. It was, from Olmert's point of view, a final offer, not a basis for future negotiation. But Abbas could not commit. Instead, he said he would come with experts the next day.
"He (Abbas) promised me the next day his adviser would come. But the next day Saeb Erekat rang my adviser and said we forgot we are going to Amman today, let's make it next week. I never saw him again."
Olmert believes that, like Camp David a decade earlier, this was an enormous opportunity lost: "I said `this is the offer. Sign it and we can immediately get support from America, from Europe, from all over the world'. I told him (Abbas) he'd never get anything like this again from an Israeli leader for 50 years. I said to him, `do you want to keep floating forever - like an astronaut in space - or do you want a state?'
"To this day we should ask Abu Mazen to respond to this plan. If they (the Palestinians) say no, there's no point negotiating."
Olmert is right to paint this offer as embodying the most extensive concessions, and the best deal, ever offered to the Palestinians by an Israeli leader. But his very experience with this offer raises several questions. Could he have delivered its terms if the Palestinians had accepted it? Perhaps international momentum would have enabled him to do so, and, in fact, Olmert's Kadima party did remarkably well in the election which followed his prime ministership. Could any Israeli government today realistically make such an offer? The answer would seem to be no.
And most important, if the Palestinian leadership cannot accept that offer, can they accept any realistic offer? Do they have the machinery to run a state? Is their society too dysfunctional and filled with anti-Semitic propaganda to live in peace next to the Jewish state? Could they ever deliver on any security guarantees?
I put these questions to Olmert and his response to them is perhaps the most lukewarm part of our interview: "It's certainly a legitimate concern, since I never received a positive response from them. I think it's up to them (the Palestinians) to prove the point. I hope they will rise to this."
Olmert still believes the Palestinians should respond to the deal he offered them. If they did so, this would open the way to peace, but only if Palestinian society is reconciled to living in peace next to Israel as it really exists.
Read the whole interview of Greg Sheridan from The Australian with Ehud Olmert here: Ehud Olmert still dreams of peace