Avi Issacharoff has published his promised report here on his interview with Israel’s Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert … in which Olmert describes his interaction with the Palestinian leaders and the proposals he gave Mahmoud Abbas on 16 September 2008.
Abbas has said he wants talks to restart from this point.
Issacharoff reported that Olmert said this:
“I completely gave up on having an Israeli presence in the Jordan Valley…because I could protect the Jordan River line through an international military force on the other side of the Jordan River”… “There was no opposition on the Palestinian side to our having a presence in warning stations along the mountain range”…
Issacharoff: “Today, such an offer, particularly as it relates to the Jordan Valley, is all but inconceivable”… [Netanyahu wants control]
Olmert said: “I proposed a compromise on…the Temple Mount. There’d be no sovereignty for anyone else” but joint administration of 5 states This idea [no sovereignty but joint administration of 5 states – Palestine, Israel, Jordan Saudi Arabia, and the United States] “came from my head. I was thinking about it day + night”… What did Abbas say? Olmert: “he didn’t say he opposed my idea. It was clear to me that he agreed…”
Abbas said [according to Olmert] “Listen, it makes a very serious impression…but I have to be sure. I want the map experts from both sides to sit together”
Olmert told Issacharoff that: “We called over Turjeman + Saeb, I said Shalom should call Danny Tirza, our map expert, so they should sit together the next day” Olmert: But Saeb Erekat called the next day to cancel the map experts’ because the Palestinians “had forgotten that Abbas had to go to Amman”…
A senior Palestinian official told Issacharoff: “The natural thing was that Abu Mazen would not sign immediately” + would responsibly consult w/ the PLO leadership.
Issacharoff said he asked a senior Palestinian official: Between the last meeting + the IDF’s Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, there were 3 months”. Why did you give no answer to Olmert in that time?
Olmert told Issacharoff that he had his own ideas about why: The Palestinians “were very worried. Abu Mazen is not a big hero. They were afraid. Erekat was worried..They thought maybe after the American elections they would get more from President Obama”…
In Issacharoff’s earlier piece [published in The Tower on 17 May], he wrote: “Olmert’s offer will likely one day become the basis for a final-status agreement”…
Saeb Erekat said, however, that “Olmert’s memory concerning the last meeting has been rather foggy”.
Erekat said there were “many intervening meetings” during the 3 months between the meeting with Olmert in September 2008 + Operation Cast Lead between Palestinian + Israelis [Turgeman, Livni, + Tal Becker].
Asked by the Jerusalem Post to elaborate, Erekat explained:
(1): “We also presented a map to Olmert that would transfer 1.9% of West Bank territory to Israeli sovereignty…”
(2): “On December 18, 2008 we deposited our map + Olmert’s map as we remembered it w/ President Bush at the White House…”
(3): we deposited our map w/ Bush “…in the presence of Rice + [National Security Advisor Stephen] Hadley…”
(4): Bush asked that “we + Israel send reps on Jan 3, 2009 to Washington, but then the operation [Cast Lead] began in Gaza”…
UPDATE: A document in the Palestine Papers leaked to Al-Jazeera and now posted on their website here indicates that on 31 August, Olmert or his people ran a summary of the “package” he was going to propose, two weeks later in September, to Abbas.
It was apparently not yet complete, by the end of August, and did not contain the proposal of the 5-nation administration over the “Holy Basin”. It did, however, say that East Jerusalem would be divided territorially along the lines of the Clinton Parameters [with the exception of the “Holy Basin”, which Olmert said comprises 0.04% of the West Bank (approximately 2.2 km)]…
But it did contain the slightly whittled-down territorial concession:
“Israel would annex 6.8% of the West Bank … including the four main settlement ‘blocs’ of Gush ‘Etzion (with Efrata), Ma’ale Adumim, Giv’at Ze’ev and Ariel, as well as all of the settlements in East Jerusalem (with Har Homa), in exchange for the equivalent of 5.5% from Israeli territory … safe passage between Gaza and West Bank would be under Israeli sovereignty with Palestinian control, and is not included in the above percentages”.
And it said “There will be a special road connecting Bethlehem with Ramallah, thus by-passing East Jerusalem (most likely the same road currently planned around Adumim)”.
And “Israel would acknowledge the suffering of – but not responsibility for – Palestinian refugees … and eould contribute to the compensation of the refugees through an international mechanism and based on suffering … Compensation, and not restitution or return [(apart from 5,000 Israel would allow to return inside the Green Line on a humanitarian basis)], would be the only remedy”.
This is an exclusive [not ours, but of Israeli journalist Avi Issacharoff, who reported it in The Tower, here] — a map reportedly hand-drawn from memory by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on 16 September 2008 upon his return to Ramallah after meeting Israel’s then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
In his exclusive, Issacharoff wrote that this map somehow “calls into question the basic willingness of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to accept any peace agreement with the Jewish State”…
But Issacharoff’s story [w/ the Abbas map exclusive] could have the effect of bolstering Abbas’ position that talks should restart at the point they broke off in September 2008 — in other words, on the basis of the proposals made at the time this map was drawn. The current Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu has refused to start talks on this basis. But, the concrete confirmation of the discussion on 16 September 2008 in the Prime Minister’s residence in Jerusalem, could somehow facilitate the restart of the direct negotiations.
This map, reportedly drawn by Abbas, appears to be encased in transparent plastic:
In fact, the only thing that’s new in this story, so far, is the photo of this map. [But, Issacharoff promises to publish his full interview with Olmert tomorrow…]
Palestinian negotiators have said for several years that the Israelis only let them look at this map, but never to keep it. Palestinians then prepared their own map which they gave to George Mitchell at the start of the Obama administration’s involvement in 2009 — but they say that to this day Israel has not actually handed over a map, only shown one in September, then whisked it away. [Another report published later today suggested that Abbas was asked to sign the map, but when he declined, the map was retained by Olmert…]
This map, which Issacharoff said is the one drawn by President Abbas, is a map of Israeli proposals for Land Swaps — an idea that evolved out of the Geneva Initiative signed in December 2003, in Geneva, between Israeli and Palestinian “civil society” teams.
The Palestinian team insisted that the Land Swaps be on a 1:1 basis — and this was agreed by the Israeli team of unofficial negotiators. It was the one concrete Palestinian achievement through the Geneva Initiative.
The Palestinians additionally scored another point through the Geneva Initiative negotiations: the Land Swaps should be of land of an equal or greater “quality” [i.e., not rubbish or poor-quality barren wasteland].
The Abbas-drawn map shows, inside the West Bank, only the 3 large settlement blocs that have been under discussion between Israels and Palestinians since 2000-2001: Ariel, Gush Etzion, Maale Adumim.
It also shows, outside the West Bank, what must be proposed areas of land swaps: 1.) North of the West Bank; 2.) at the Tarqumiya area just to the West of the Tarqoumiya area [where the terminal for the two-way safe-passage route planned between Gaza and the West Bank was/is to be located] ; and 3.) South of the West Bank. The Tarqoumiya area was/is supposed to be the terminal for the two-way safe-passage route that was supposed to be already operating already, for years, between Gaza and the West Bank.
[The two designs to the left are not clear — the lower one appears to be the Gaza Strip, with the blob within the wavy line to the right appears to be the Land Swap offer. Is the top one just a doodle? UPDATE: No — According to Issacharoff’s report on Friday 24 May in The Tower, these are the Arabic numbers of the percentage of Land Swap as Abbas incorrectly remembered them (6.8% and 5.5%, rather than 6.3% and 5.8%) ]
NOTE: The Palestine Papers, leaked documents from the Palestinian offices including from the PLO’s Negotiations Support Unit, show that in a meeting in June 2008, three months before the final Olmert-Abbas meeting on 16 September 2008, Tzipi Livni said: “The 7.3% offer by Olmert is the most generous, and will be perceived by Israelis as the most fair”. In that same meeting, Ahmad Qureia [Abu Alaa] stuck to the same 1.9% that Palestinian negotiators are still standing by today, and said that “7.3 position just does not allow a state to survive, and it takes all around Jerusalem, and gives to the south of the West Bank and next to Gaza”. This revelation is published here.
Another of the Palestine Paper documents describes Israel’s position in July 2008 as: “Olmert’s proposal to AM [Abu Mazen, or Mahmoud Abbas] of 7.3% of West Bank (excl. East Jerusalem, No-Man’s Land i.e, 9.2%) in exchange for 5% equivalent from Israel in southern West Bank and around Gaza…” The same document also notes: “Not allowed to present GoI [Government of Israel] position on swaps”…And it also says “Willing to discuss swap but not 1:1 in quantity. Palestinians do not have ‘rights’ to the land and Israel is not under obligation to ‘return’ land to Palestinians”… This is published here.
On 15 July, a Palestinian team led by Abu Alaa was in Washington to meet Concoleezza Rice. According to the meeting notes, published by Palestine Papers here, Abu Alaa told Condi Rice: “We offered 1.9%. It is reasonable. We included the settlements inside Jerusalem – Psgat Zeev, etc. It’s the first time! … East Jerusalem is part of the 1967 border. Anything there should be part of the swap. Unfortunately, what we heard from Olmert is that he can’t stop building because it is Jerusalem”. Condoleeza Rice reportedly said: “Ariel is a problem, I told them – it protrudes down far into the Palestinian state…Also it would be difficult for Israel to protect Ariel without a large perimeter”.
I was shown a map very similar to the Abbas map in January 2001, in a Ministry in Ramallah — before the era of “Land Swaps” — and it showed only the West Bank with the three areas that Israel calls “settlement blocs”, minus any Israeli land that was on offer for a trade.
In other words, in late 2000 + 2001, Israeli negotiators working for then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak were proposing that they keep the three large settlement blocs marked on the map — but they were not proposing to give up any territory to the Palestinians.
The Palestinian negotiators apparently were willing at that time, as I was told in another Ramallah office, to cede only two, not three, of these settlement areas. UPDATE: a Palestinian official in Ramallah told me today, however, that it was the opposite — the Palestinians had rejected [not accepted] two out of the three concessions.
In any case, it was not clear what the Palestinians would get, in exchange…
It took eight years [from 2001 to 2008] for the Israeli negotiators to sweeten their offer with an exchange proposal, the Land Swaps…
A Palestinian official in Ramallah told me this afternoon, however, that their team had refused to cede both Maale Adumim [which is half-way from Jerusalem to the Jordanian Border at the Dead Sea] and Ariel [which goes 22 km deep inside the northern West Bank] .
He indicated that there was Palestinian willingness to give up some part of Gush Etzion in the south, a part that is near the 1967 Green Line.
In fact, he said, the Palestinians have rejected the idea of “settlement blocs” and are only willing to talk on a settlement-by-settlement basis.
He also said, as he said before, that Ehud Olmert wanted to take 6.5% of the West Bank, and was offering 5.8% territory in exchange, with compensation of just over 1% somehow.
What the Palestinians have proposed — and the map that the Palestinians have presented, which is not the Abbas-drawn map [above] of the Israeli proposals — is a 1:1 exchange of 1.9% of West Bank land.
This Palestinian official also noted that this map published by Issacharoff does not show East Jerusalem — which, he said, Olmert had accepted would be the capital of the Palestinian State…
“President Abbas did draw a map”, the official added, “but I’m not sure this map is the map the President drew”. He said that professional cartographers working with the PLO then made a projection of Abbas’s drawing on a topograpical map of the West Bank… Then the Palestinian negotiators later presented their own map, which the U.S. government has officially received.
UPDATE: The Times of Israel reported here that “According to Walla, Olmert envisaged relinquishing Israeli territory on a one-for-one basis to the Palestinians in areas including near Afula; near Tirat Zvi south of Beit She’an; north of Jerusalem; in the Judean Desert, and in the Lachish area. He also endorsed a tunnel route to link Gaza and the West Bank. Olmert, as he has subsequently confirmed, was also prepared to divide Jerusalem into Israeli- and Palestinian-controlled neighborhoods, and to relinquish Israeli sovereignty at the Temple Mount and the entire Old City. He proposed that the ‘Holy Basin’ be overseen instead by a five-member, non-sovereign international trusteeship, comprising Israel, the PA, Jordan, the US and Saudi Arabia”.
[Note – While I expect that the phrase “north of Jerusalem” refers to Olmert’s proposing for the first time to give the industrial zone of Atarot as well as the Qalandia airport to the Palestinian Authority, under condition of joint operation… but I can’t imagine what the writer, or Walla, meant by Israel relinquishing Israeli territory “in the Judean Desert”…? ]
By the time the Olmert proposal was made to Abbas on 16 September 2008, as part of the American-led Annapolis process of negotiations that was supposed to lead to a state by the end of 2008 [or at the very latest by the end of the Bush Admininstration on 18 January 2009], Olmert himself was facing indictment and the Palestinians were told [and decided] to hold off on any commitment…
It was reportedly Tzipi Livni, at the time Olmert’s Foreign Minister [now, Netanyahu’s Justice Minister and also somehow in charge, despite Molcho’s apparently continuing role, of negotiations with the Palestinians] who advised the Palestinians to hold off on responding to Olmert in September 2008…
On 27 December 2008, Israel launched a massive military operation, Cast Lead, into Gaza — and Abbas broke off negotiations a few days later. Despite a few contacts, these negotiations have not yet resumed — and Abbas wants them to resume where they left off on 16 September 2008…
Palestinians say that Netanyahu’s negotiator Yitzhak Molcho has since introduced the idea that Israel should be allowed to keep a security corridor all along the Jordan [River] Valley, carving out a large slice that would remain under their control. Mohammad Shtayyah said after a series of direct contacts in Amman in January 2012 that Molcho said, “Give it to us, or we’ll take it”… And President Abbas has complained to a number of visiting American and Israeli delegations about Israel’s Jordan Valley ambitions.
A new book by U.S. Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice revisits the “Annapolis process” of direct Israeli-Palestinian talks that she personally shepherded. She places the date of near-breakthrough proposals from Israel’s then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert as May 2008 — four months earlier than most accounts have previously reported.
The AP had an interview with Rice to coincide with the publication of her memoir, No Higher Honor, today: “Rice’s account confirms then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s claim that he had laid out a comprehensive proposal for peace during secret meetings with Rice and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas … In the book, Rice recounts a private dinner with Olmert in May 2008 when she said he presented the plan. It contained ways to address the most difficult issues preventing Israel and the Palestinians from agreeing on terms for a separate Palestinian state, she wrote. Olmert proposed a system for shared jurisdiction of Jerusalem and return of a limited number of Palestinians who left their homes in what is now Israel when the Jewish state was created in 1948, Rice wrote. Olmert also would end the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and hand over about 94 percent of the territory to the Palestinians for the bulk of their state, she wrote. ‘Concentrate, concentrate’, Rice describes herself as thinking as Olmert spoke. ‘This is unbelievable’.”
The AP story is headlined: “Mideast peace prospects [have] worsened under Obama”.
This AP interview as Condoleezza Rice’s book is published here.
Rice claims, as many media accounts do, that the Obama Administration raised the bar too high by its early adoption of a demand for a settlement freeze after which direct negotiations would resume. This, she [like most media accounts] says, was the main problem that blocked the possibility of resuming direct Israeli-Palestinian talks — which, she implies [backing the Palestinian position on this point] should have resumed at the point they were broken off.
Now, she said, the lack of talks is the the main factor in the dangerous increase in tension in the region.
The Washington Post also published this AP story, which quoted Rice as saying: “I do think focusing on settlements in that particular way was a mistake … The parties then were able to have a reason not to sit down … and they’re running out of time … When they’re not talking, they’re sliding backward”.
In an article published by YNet, an Israeli former National Security adviser, Giora Eiland, wrote that “When one of the sides, and especially if it’s a superpower, decides to call a spade a spade, a new reality emerges … In December 2000, President Bill Clinton presented his plan for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It was not a list of abstract principle, but rather, concrete geographical, technical, and numerical proposals for resolving each of the core issues – borders, security arrangements, Jerusalem, refugees, and so on. Ever since then, the notion of the two-state solution in the eyes of any US Administration, and certainly a Democratic one, has been a codename for Clinton’s plan. Its essence is as follows: Two states between the Jordan River and Mediterranean Sea, with the border between them premised on the 1967 boundaries (with minor changes,) a divided Jerusalem, limits on the Palestinian state’s militarization, and no return of Palestinian refugees to Israel. To the Americans, as well as to the parties to the conflict, it’s clear that a final-status agreement on the basis of two states is the Clinton plan with minor adjustments, regardless of who the negotiators are. For nine years – George W. Bush’s eight years in office and Obama’s one year – the Americans and Israelis preferred to make do with agreement on the ambiguous principle of two states. Both Prime Minister Sharon and PM Netanyahu were able to live with this abstract concept. It was convenient for both the US and Israel to explain that the nature of the final-status agreement is unknown, and it will be subject to negotiations between the two sides. Yet recently, Obama decided to no longer make do with the codename and ensure that Netanyahu also understands and agrees that endorsing the ‘two-status solution’ means endorsing Clinton’s plan. This caused great embarrassment. PM Netanyahu assumed that real answers, if at all, will be needed only during the negotiations, yet he was asked to provide them here and now … Netanyahu thinks that the Clinton plan is bad for Israel; he also knows that he cannot implement it even if he wished to do so. [Yet] … Instead, Netanyahu officially endorsed the Clinton plan (which, as noted, is the only American interpretation of the ‘two-state solution’.) Yet when Obama asked him to say explicitly what he seemingly said in his Bar-Ilan speech, Netanyahu found it difficult to speak. The American conclusions of this are grim: Firstly, Israel has no alternate ideas. Secondly, the Clinton plan is the only solution and there is nothing else. Thirdly, Israel’s prime minister is an unreliable person. The distance from these conclusions to a situation whereby the US dictates a plan, including a binding timetable, is short. Ironically, we can assume that the main possibility to get out of this problematic situation stems from the fact that the Palestinians also cannot accept the Clinton plan (recognition of a Jewish state, a declaration that they have no more demands, and renunciation of the right of return.) In fact, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas was not willing to even discuss the Clinton model with PM Olmert”. This opinion piece by Giora Eiland can be read in full on YNet here
Speaking at a conference at Tel Aviv University today, Israel’s former prime minister Ehud Olmert said that “during his tenure he offered Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas an unprecedented peace offer, based on a return to the 1967 borders and a fair demographic land arrangement which would see heavily Jewish areas in the West Bank remain under Israeli control. ‘I offered a land swap, I offered a solution for Jerusalem, where the Jewish part would remain under Israeli authority and the Arab sections would be given to the jurisdiction of a Palestinian state’ … According to Olmert’s plan, the Holy Basin would be demarcated under the rule of five different states with access available to believers of all religions. The offer was based on the agreements reached at a 2007 summit in Annapolis Maryland, Olmert said, and would be carried out in accordance with the Road Map for peace. Olmert said he and Abbas had reached an interim agreement on the Palestinian right of return, but he never received a final response from the Palestinians on the matter. ‘I found Abbas to be a fair partner, opposed to terror’, said Olmert. ‘What happened? That is the question of all questions, which I would answer if I could. I hope that the State of Israel will put at the top of its agenda the fact that there was a peace proposal offered by a legitimate government… It’s time the international community demand an answer from the Palestinians instead of arguing about a building here and a building there’ … Olmert added that he had ‘reached the conclusion that in choosing between the greater Israel and a Jewish, democratic state, I prefer the latter’, saying he knew it would be necessary to withdraw from much of the land the Palestinians want for a state. Olmert also said he had been ‘hours’ from meeting with the Syrian foreign minister during his tenure, but that the talks were canceled after Israel embarked on its offensive in the Gaza Strip”. here.
Why do people wait so long to say these things?
What would have happened if he had said it loudly, publicly, insistently, repetitiously, at the time?
Haaretz reporters Aluf Benn and Barak Ravid have published an account of a meeting of the Israeli team that supports the Geneva Initiative between Israeli and Palestinian civil society (in December 2003) that gives a glimpse into what happened in the direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations under the Annapolis process in 2008. This account also explains why Israel’s then-Prime Ehud Olmert was looking for information from the experts who had worked on drafting the Geneva Intiative.
Here is an extended excerpt from the Haaretz article:
“I do not believe that in the foreseeable future there is a possibility of an agreement with the Palestinians on all the issues, especially on the problematic core issues,” says Udi Dekel, who headed the negotiations task force in the previous government. Dekel spoke on Thursday at a conference on the unofficial “Geneva Initiative” peace plan … He was highly critical of the negotiating tactics of former prime minister Ehud Olmert and his Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni in their dealings with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and the head of his negotiating team, Ahmed Qureia. “The biggest mistake was that everything was based on the premise that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed,” Dekel said. “We thought at the time that this could provide the necessary flexibility in the negotiations, but in practice, every time someone showed flexibility, the other side tried to pin him down. Therefore, I suggest that the model be changed and that whatever is agreed is implemented.”
YNet’s Roni Sofer wrote that outgoing Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert made an “unprecedented” offer to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in September 2008 — to which Abbas has not responded, Olmert claims — proposing to give Palestinians 93% of the West Bank and parts of Herusalem.
In the story, Sofer reported that “Prime Minister Ehud Olmert attempted to clarify Thursday alleged promises he had made in a so-called ‘final offer’ to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in September 2008, which included the eviction of tens of thousands of settlers and territorial concessions in Jerusalem. ‘There was one point when I put things on the table and offered Abbas something that had never been offered and dealt with the crux of the problem, with the most sensitive issues that touch the most exposed nerves and historical obstacles’, Olmert said during a Thursday conference in Herzliya. ‘I told him – “let’s sign”. It was half a year ago and I’m still waiting’, he said. Senior officials said that a meeting of the leaders in the Prime Minister’s resident in Jerusalem involved a ‘final offer to end the conflict’. The offer involved a future border between a possible Palestinian state to Israel, involving the eviction of the more than 60,000 settlers living beyond the security barrier in the West Bank – the proposed new border between the two entities. The offer involved a return of 93% of the West Bank, leaving in Israel the large population centers, such as Ariel and Elkanah in the north, Maaleh Adumim in the center, and Jerusalem and Gush Etzion in the south. Regarding Jerusalem itself, Olmert offered to cede over to the Palestinians the peripheral neighborhoods and the refugee camps surrounding the city, such as Kalandia. The holy sites, whose sovereignty is desired by all faiths, would be determined within an international framework, the prime minister said. The plan was also presented to the Americans who, according to the Prime Minister’s Office, supported the plan. They apparently also expressed optimism that the offer would be acceptable to the Palestinians”…
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said he would resign after the Kadima party primary, Tzipi Livni said after her win in that primary last week (18 September), so let him resign. And, Livni indicated, Olmert should not wait until 2 October, after the Jewish New Year, as Olmert aides indicated — he should resign ASAP, Livni said.
Olmert’s resignation is expected at or after the weekly Sunday Cabinet meeting today.
The primary exit polls had predicted a much wider margin for Tzipi’s victory (nearly ten points), but she turned out to win by only 1.1% over runner-up Shaul Mofaz. Both Tzipi and Mofaz got more than 40% of the primary vote, so a second round of balloting was not needed.
Mofaz then declined to challenge the results, despite his supporters claims of irregularities — and said he intended to withdraw from politics for a time.
The Associated Press reported that Tzipi said after her win that: ” ‘The national responsibility (bestowed) by the public brings me to approach this job with great reverence’ … Livni will have 42 days to form a new ruling coalition. If she succeeds, she will become Israel’s first female prime minister since Golda Meir. If she fails, the country will hold elections in early 2009, a year and a half ahead of schedule. Olmert will remain as a caretaker leader until a new coalition is approved by parliament. Olmert spokesman Mark Regev said the prime minister called Livni to congratulate her on her victory and would notify the Cabinet on Sunday that he would resign. ‘After that, he will resign’, Regev said … The primary was Kadima’s first since the party was founded by then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in 2005. Sharon suffered a debilitating stroke in early 2006, and Olmert subsequently led the party to victory in elections”. here.
The McClatchy newspaper group’s Dion Nissenbaum wrote that “Livni will have to use her diplomatic acumen to persuade skeptical political adversaries to join her in forming a new coalition government that can lead the nation. If she fails to form a coalition by early November, she’d be forced to lead the Kadima Party in national elections. And polls find her facing a difficult task in topping Benjamin Netanyahu, the Likud Party leader and former prime minister, who’s taken a harder line on peace talks with Israel’s adversaries. By choosing Livni over Mofaz, Kadima voters implicitly endorsed the foreign minister’s diplomacy-before-warfare approach to tackling Israel’s biggest concerns: making peace with the Palestinians and neutering Iran’s nuclear program. Should Livni succeed in becoming the next prime minister, she’s expected to press ahead with two of Olmert’s biggest diplomatic gambits: U.S.-backed peace talks with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and nascent, indirect negotiations with Syria that are being overseen by Turkey. Both tracks face significant hurdles, and there’s a growing sense among politicians and academics in the region that there’ll be no diplomatic breakthroughs until U.S. voters choose a new president”. Dion’s analysis can be read in full here.
An article in Haaretz by Amir Oren stated that “Livni’s first priorty will be to de-Omertize the Kadima party: If she were leading a rock group, we could call it Tzipi and the Expectations [a play on words in Hebrew — see Uri Avnery below]. She is expected to form a nimble yet stable government, broad enough to avert early Knesset elections yet efficient enough to work and to make policy. Her first priority will be to briskly de-Olmertize the party and to purge the rot and corruption at the top of the government. In practice, this should mean the swift exit of Olmert’s crony culture in the Prime Minister’s Office and in the cabinet, starting with Haim Ramon and Daniel Friedmann”. This analysis/comment can be read in Haaretz here.
YNet reported that: “Shas Chairman Eli Yishai, a key potential coalition partner … said he was ‘sure that Livni knows that the public doesn’t care about her victory today, but rather, about her actions tomorrow. The elections are a means, not an end’. Shas’ chairman added that ‘If Livni addresses the issue of a million hungry children and doesn’t give away the country’s assets – with an emphasis on Jerusalem – we’ll be in her government. If not, we won’t be’ … However, Yishai added that certain Kadima members preferred to go to general election. ‘I feel that within Kadima there are those who desire elections. A government cannot be established now. We will be part of the government only if our demands are fulfilled. I don’t believe in the option of a government with 61 MKs. Either there will be a stable government with Shas, or elections’, he said”…
There was some shock when it was announced that Livni had approached Meretz to join the Government. Israeli analyists said that if Meretz would agree, then the government would have to be “balanced” by at least one of the religious parties to make it less “left-wing”. It’s too bad that the Arab parties who are represented in the Knesset have traditionally refused to serve in the government — it would be very interesting to see the country’s lead negotiator in the Annapolis-process peace talks with the Palestinian Authority leading a government in which pro-peace forces dominate, and in which Israel’s “Arab” [i.e. Palestinian] elected parliamentarians would responsibly participate … and help make a negotiated peace possible.
Speculation is rising about the possibility of a deal on the eve of an election to replace Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert as leader of his political party, Kadima — which may or may not result on his leaving office (depending on whether his successor can form a new government).
This is admittedly confusing, as Olmert has pledged to resign immediately after the party primary on Wednesday.
Here is the fire and the smoke from the Israeli press today:
Haaretz says that “Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is seriously considering Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s proposal of an agreement in principle on the core issues in the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Moratinos told Haaretz Monday after he met with the two leaders. ‘My conclusion from the talks with Olmert and Abu-Mazen [Abbas] is that the discussion and the proposals are extremely positive. I think that they are very close. I am convinced that these peace talks are going to be irreversible from what they have achieved. Whatever happens in Israeli internal politics and in the U.S. administration – both sides and the international community need to work to make them irreversible’, Moratinos said. Moratinos said that in his meeting with Olmert, he received details of the main points of the Israeli prime minister’s proposal to Abbas, and that the proposal was “based on a long series of bilateral negotiations” between Olmert and Abbas … This afternoon, Abbas is to hold another meeting with Olmert at the prime minister’s official residence in Jerusalem, and according to the Spanish foreign minister, the Palestinian may then give Olmert his answer. Moratinos said Abbas was ‘impressed by the proposal and he is studying it. They are quite impressed by the proposal and they see it as a serious proposal. In general they consider it positively – but they still need to make the decision’. In a meeting of his own with Moratinos on Sunday night, Olmert told the Spanish foreign minister that he was concerned over pressure being applied by senior Palestinian officials on the PA president to say no to Olmert’s proposal for an agreement in principle on the core issues. Olmert told Moratinos that some Palestinian officials had fallen in love with the negotiations and are trying to thwart an agreement. Olmert was apparently referring to Ahmed Qureia, who is in charge of the talks with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and is urging Abbas to continue the talks into 2009.
Moratinos is encouraging Abbas to accept Olmert’s proposal. He has also discussed the matter with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, and will be in Damascus tomorrow for talks with President Bashar Assad”. The full Haaretz article can be found here.
Another article in Haaretz reports that “Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Monday said he was sorry for the plight of Palestinians and Jews who became refugees as a result of Israel’s establishment. ‘I join in expressing sorrow for what happened to the Palestinians and also for what happened to the Jews who were expelled from Arab states’, the prime minister said. Olmert made the comments before a meeting of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, apparently in his last such session as prime minister. He was speaking in reference to the key Palestinian demand for a ‘right of return’ in peace negotiations with Israel … ‘Under absolutely no circumstances will there be a right of return’, Olmert declared, ‘but we are prepared to be part of an international mechanism that will work to solve the problem’. Palestinians have demanded that Israel accept responsibility for the suffering of Palestinians who fled or were driven from their homes in the War of Independence that followed Israel’s 1948 creation. Olmert’s remark Monday fell far short of meeting this demand. But it was unusual for an Israeli prime minister to say Israel will participate in expressing sorrow for what happened to them. The premier also said that a peace deal with the Palestinian Authority will involve proportionate land swaps between the two sides. ‘The territorial price of peace with the Palestinians will bring us very close to the land-for-land formula. This needs to be said forthrightly and with courage. There are different ways of reaching this formula through annexing or exchanging territories’, Olmert said.” This article can be read in full here.
And, yet another Haaretz article states that “According to Olmert, by the end of 2008, it should be possible to attain understandings with the Palestinians on three issues: borders, security and refugees. However Olmert stressed that the implementation of the understandings is conditioned on the application of the Bush road map and eradication of the Palestinian terrorist infrastructures, and so implementation will take place at a much later stage. ‘It is important to reach understandings, even if their implementation is delayed’, he said … Olmert also said: ‘We will be sorry for every day that goes by without an agreeement with the Palestinians, and the person saying this is one who once held different opinions and even fought for them.” Olmert said the price of not reaching an agreement quickly would be ‘intolerable’. Olmert said that even exchanging equal territory with the Palestinians would be ”less than what we will have to pay in the future’. According to Olmert’s proposal, the Palestinians would receive 93 percent of the West Bank and the equivalent of another approximately 5.5 percent of territory, in the Negev adjacent to the Gaza Strip, in exchange for the large settlement blocs, which would be annexed to Israel. Olmert has also proposed an international compensation mechanism for Palestinian refugees and the symbolic return of a few thousand such refugees without Israel recognizing the right of return or responsibility for the creation of the Palestinian refugee problem. Olmert reportedly wants to postpone discussion of Jerusalem, and to hold talks on that subject in a broad international framework. The prime minister told the committee that there is a concern over ‘the entrenchment of the narrative of a binational state, in which we will not be the majority. Ever-growing segments of the international community are adopting the idea of a binational state. I see a Jewish state as a condition for our existence’. Olmert said an agreement would lead to international recognition of Israel’s borders in the context of a two-state solution … In response to a question about his position on exchanges of territory and populations, he said: ‘I am not in favor of taking a million Arabs out of Israel’. Olmert said that an agreement with the Palestinians would make it much easier to solve problems involving Israel’s Arab citizens”… This story can be read in full in Haaretz here.
The Jerusalem Post is reporting that “Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is scheduled to meet Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday. The two leaders are expected to formulate a document that will include the agreements reached during negotiations so far, ahead of Abbas’s upcoming visit to Washington. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Ahmed Qurei, who head the Israeli and Palestinian negotiating teams, will not attend the meeting.” This brief JPost report is posted here.
nd the JPost is also reporting that: “Ehud Olmert has discussed with the Palestinians transferring to them 98.1 percent of the West Bank, Channel 2 [television] reported on Sunday evening. The report on the ongoing negotiations was broadcast in advance of Tuesday’s planned meeting between Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. The Prime Minister’s Office declined to comment on the news item and said only that many such media reports had been published in the last months regarding the talks. Earlier in the day, during what could be his last cabinet meeting before he becomes the head of a transitional government, Olmert addressed Israel’s relationship to the West Bank when he spoke of a voluntary evacuation bill to help relocate settlers living east of the security barrier. ‘The vision of a greater Israel no longer exists. Those who speak of it are delusional’, the prime minister said. No vote was taken on the measure. According to Channel 2, however, Olmert is considering concessions far beyond land east of the barrier and could transfer 98.1% of the West Bank to the PA. That is significantly more than the 94% to 96% that had been discussed in previous negotiations …
The report states that Abbas has asked that Israel cede the Jerusalem area settlements of Ma’aleh Adumim and Givat Ze’ev, but is willing to negotiate the status of the Jerusalem neighborhoods of Gilo and French Hill, which are over the Green Line. In the past the Palestinians have demanded that Israel fully withdraw to the pre-1967 borders, including from eastern Jerusalem. Israel has insisted it plans to keep the larger settlements blocs including Ma’aleh Adumim and Givat Ze’ev as well as the Jewish neighborhoods of east Jerusalem. The future of Jerusalem, according to Channel 2, was being negotiated between Olmert and Abbas, and not by the team led by Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. [n.b. – remember the -U.S. State Department information note, after the flap over the interview by U.S. Consul in Jerusalem Jacob Walles, which stated cryptically that Livni has not been negotiating on Jerusalem … see our earlier post here].
The article continues: “Olmert has also agreed that 5,000 Palestinian refugees would return to Israel – a thousand refugees every year for five years, according to the report. Abbas allegedly rejected the proposal and was demanding the return of many more refugees. According to the report, the Palestinians were also interested in access not only to the Dead Sea but also to the Kinneret, as they claimed they deserved some rights over the water flowing into the lake because the Jordan River runs through Palestinian territory … Speaking in defense of the voluntary evacuation bill at the cabinet meeting, Olmert said that for the 40 years since it acquired the West Bank during the Six Day War, Israel had been making excuses as to why it could not do anything. This, he said, did not help Israel. It was important Israel showed it had taken initiative in the peace process. ‘We have to advance the voluntary evacuation compensation bill and to bring it to the cabinet [for a vote]’, the prime minister said. Olmert said he had not always supported territorial concessions and that he had initially felt that then-prime minister Ehud Barak had offered the Palestinians too much at Camp David in 2000. ‘I thought that the land between the Jordan River and the sea was ours’, he said. In the end, he said he came to the conclusion that we had to reach an agreement with the Palestinians if we did not want to see Israel become a binational state. There was no time to waste, Olmert said. adding: ‘We can argue about every small detail and find that when we are ready for an agreement there is no partner and no international support’. In the not too distant future, there would come a day when ‘we will want those same solutions that we are rejecting today’, he said”. This JPost article can be read in full here.
Also from JPost article, we learn that “Vice Premier Haim Ramon in briefing reporters on Sunday, expressed skepticism as to the success of the negotiations. Ramon said he was not optimistic that a final-status agreement would be reached, ‘not at the end of this year and not at the end of next year’.
But what was clear, he said, was that in the future, ‘settlements east of the barrier won’t be under Israeli sovereignty’. There was no reason why those settlers who understood that the barrier represented a future border should have to wait five or 10 years to be evacuated, Ramon said. At Sunday’s cabinet meeting, he proposed a voluntary evacuation bill that would offer property owners in the 72 settlements outside of the barrier an average of $300,000 or NIS 1.1 million for their homes. Those homes would then be sealed or destroyed so they could not be reused by other settlers, Ramon said … According to Ramon, there are an estimated 61,808 settlers living outside of the barrier, out of whom 11,000, or 18%, would accept such an offer. Such a measure, Ramon said, would help those settlers who did not enjoy the same security offered Israelis living inside the barrier and would also be seen by the Palestinians as a sign of good faith toward the negotiations. Ramon’s proposal was immediately objected to by the four candidates competing in Wednesday’s primary for the Kadima leadership. If the government wanted to make a gesture toward the Palestinians that involved territory, it should evacuate the unauthorized outposts, said Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit. That was particularly true, he said, given that it had already promised the international community that it would do so. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni warned that the Palestinians would view the measure as a unilateral step. She added that Israel should not take steps to determine a border while it was in the midst of negotiating one with the Palestinians. Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz said that such a law would embolden the Palestinians to increase their demands. Public Security Minister Avi Dichter said the proposal would be impossible to implement. More to the point, it would make any future evacuations harder to carry out because the net effect of the bill would be to replace less ideological settlers with more determined ones. In defense of his proposal, Ramon told reporters that the borders under negotiations with the Palestinians were already well known. Livni, he said, could only wish that the barrier would in fact be the final border” … This article is posted here.
Akiva Ekdar has just written this reflection in Haaretz on the pickle that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is presently in and the options: “Kadima [Olmert’s party, founded by former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon] has not managed to create its own political culture. In effect, to this day, it has not succeeded in leaving a mark on any sphere in which a ruling party is involved. Olmert’s most important contribution, and what distinguishes him from Netanyahu (and also from Ehud Barak), is the replacement of the unilateral solution with the principle of consent. Sharon translated Barak’s “no-partner” doctrine into a strategy of crushing the Palestinian Authority, eliminating the political option and the unilateral approach. Olmert brought the term “permanent arrangement” back into public discourse, and transformed Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) into a regular sight on Israelis’ televisions. Too bad the peace with Syria appeared again on the agenda in the shadow of Talansky’s harsh testimony. Thanks to these processes, Olmert deserves a place in the history books, not only as the person responsible for the debacle in Lebanon and as a cigar-loving political hack.
“It seems that Olmert will have to drop the plan to go to elections with a ‘shelf’ agreement that would present the principles of a permanent arrangement, and with a draft of a peace agreement between Israel and Syria. Even the Palestinians have learned that when the Israelis start talking about elections, they are not willing to hear about the division of Jerusalem and the refugee problem. But if he really does believe that in the absence of a two-state solution, ‘the Jewish state is finished’, Olmert must see to it that the next government, whatever its composition, finds Palestinian partners for that very solution.
“The fate of these partners is now in Olmert’s hands. If he continues toying with the Egyptian outline for a cease-fire (tahadiyeh) in Gaza, one more missile striking an apartment building in Ashkelon will be enough for the government to drag the Israel Defense Forces into a blood-soaked campaign deep inside the Gaza Strip. On the other hand, a siege of 1.5 million citizens cannot last forever, and eventually will explode. In both cases, the Fatah leadership led by Abu Mazen, which is perceived as a collaborator with Israel, will emerge by the skin of its teeth. This is why Hamas’ sworn enemies are supporting, if not almost begging, for Olmert to sign the tahadiyeh agreement, and to open the border crossings between the Gaza Strip and Israel. The Egyptians are hinting that they are saving the opening of the Rafah crossing for the next stage of the deal, which will include the return of abducted soldier Gilad Shalit.
“In addition to keeping the situation in the Gaza Strip quiet, Olmert has an additional series of means at his disposal that can enhance the status of the Palestinian partners, until the political situation in Israel is clarified. All he has to do is pull out of the drawer the list of promises he made to Abu Mazen (and to the Americans) and instruct the defense establishment to uphold them in spirit and in practice. The prime minister, after all, claims that he is continuing to carry out his duties in the best possible way even during the very difficult times he is experiencing”.