Ehud Olmert gives account of key meeting with Palestinian president
Former Israeli prime minister describes 'weight of Jewish history on my shoulders' in talks with Mahmoud Abbas
The memoirs of Ehud Olmert, the former prime minister of Israel, are to be published shortly, to add to the deluge of recent material on negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. Yedioth Ahronoth, the Israeli daily, published this interesting teaser for its serialisation this weekend.
I had a meeting scheduled with Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas] for September 16 . I began by presenting the principles of the arrangement that I was proposing. After I finished, Abu Mazen sighed deeply, and asked to see the map that I had prepared. I spread it out. He looked at it, and I looked at him. He was silent.
Never before had any Israeli prime minister presented such a crystallized and detailed position about resolving the conflict as was presented to him on that day. For the first time since the negotiations began, I was very tense. For the first time since I had become prime minister, I truly felt the weight of Jewish history on my shoulders, and despite the fact that I was confident that I was doing the right thing, the negotiations were very heavy.
Abu Mazen said that he could not decide and that he needed time. I told him that he was making an historic mistake.
"Give me the map so that I can consult with my colleagues," he said to me. "No," I replied. "Take the pen and sign now. You'll never get an offer that is more fair or more just. Don't hesitate. This is hard for me too, but we don't have an option of not resolving [the conflict]."
I saw that he was agonizing [over it]. In the end he said to me, "Give me a few days. I don't know my way around maps. I propose that tomorrow we meet with two map experts, one from your side and one from our side. If they tell me that everything is all right, we can sign." The next day they called and said that Abu Mazen had forgotten that they needed to be in Amman that day, and they asked to postpone the meeting by a week.
I haven't met with Abu Mazen since then. The map stayed with me.
Olmert and his aides have always insisted that the Palestinians missed an historic opportunity in 2008. The Palestinians have since said that a deal made with a lame duck prime minister (Olmert had given notice of stepping down because of corruption allegations) would have been worthless. This, of course, is Olmert's account - but another fascinating piece of this complicated jigsaw.
Autobiography: Olmert asked Abbas to sign last-minute deal - Summary
Jan 27, 2011, 14:03 GMT
Tel Aviv - In excerpts from his autobiography published for the first time Thursday, former Israeli premier Ehud Olmert said he offered Mahmoud Abbas a far-reaching deal in late 2008, but the Palestinian president hesitated and the opportunity was missed.
The excerpts released by the Yediot Ahronot daily come after al- Jazeera TV recently published the so-called "Palestine Papers" - classified documents detailing the sensitive negotiations between Olmert and Abbas in the wake of the November 2007 Annapolis summit.
Under Olmert's proposal, the Palestinians would get a state based on the borders before the 1967 war, in which Israel captured the West Bank from Jordan and Gaza from Egypt, with some territorial exchanges that would allow Israel to keep its main settlement blocks.
Jewish built-up areas in occupied East Jerusalem would go to Israel and Arab built-up areas to the Palestinians.
Israel would absorb only a small number of Palestinian refugees, and the rest would go to the Palestinian state. A tunnel would connect the West Bank and Gaza.
The dramatic excerpts show how close the Olmert and Abu Mazen administrations were to signing a peace deal - until their negotiations were cut short as the Israeli premier was forced to resign over corruption allegations.
In his book, Olmert says he made his offer in a September 16, 2008 meeting, one day before his ruling Kadima party was holding primaries to elect a new leader, and five days before he resigned.
Olmert said he asked Abbas to sign right away, but the latter replied he was no expert on maps and asked for time.
"Give me the maps so I can consult with my friends," Olmert quoted Abbas as saying.
"No, I replied. Take the pen and sign now. You will never get a more just and fair offer. Don't hesitate. It is difficult for me too," Olmert said.
Abbas then asked for a few days for consultations, but postponed the next scheduled negotiation session because of a trip to Amman.
They did not meet again.
Although Olmert was acting premier until nationalist Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, elected in an early poll, took office in March 2009, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat told Voice of Palestine Radio in November, "I do not think the negotiations can go on during the term of the transitional government in Israel."
Abbas, according to a memo preparing for his September 16 meeting that was leaked to al-Jazeera, had planned to tell Olmert, "Regardless of what happens in Israel, you are my partner until your last hour in office."
Olmert wrote that he felt "very tense" about his proposal before presenting it to Abbas.
"For the first time since becoming prime minister, I really felt the burden of Jewish history on my shoulders, and even if I felt I was doing the right thing, the burden was very heavy."
A spokeswoman for Yediot Books, which has the rights to Olmert's book, told the German Press-Agency dpa there was no publication date yet, as it was still being written. It could be published in about one year, she said.
The selected excerpts published Thursday didn't indicate how much of the West Bank Olmert "offered" Abbas. But according to the "Palestine Papers," the proposal involved 93.2 per cent of the West Bank.
Israel would compensate for part (5.5 per cent) of the 6.8 per cent of land it would annex, by giving the Palestinians patches of land in Israel bordering on the West Bank and Gaza. The settlements Olmert wanted to keep included Ma'aleh Adumim and Ariel, whose annexation the Palestinian negotiators strongly opposed.
Olmert declined to give Abbas his map outlining the proposal, probably because it would constitute proof of the concessions he was offering - and in case an agreement fell through it could have been used against him. Abbas was forced to draft the map on a napkin.
"We were very close, more than ever, to finalize a principle agreement," Olmert writes. "We can and must reach peace. There are times when history requires us to make difficult decisions. I hope the leadership which replaced me has enough courage to make them."