The Olmert revelations

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”.

The Quartet's 3-month "deadline" comes + goes

Today is the three-month marker of the Quartet plan presented to the Palestinian leadership after their “UN bid”, the formal request for admission of the State of Palestine as a full member of the United Nations, made on 23 September 2011 at UN Headuarters in New York.

The Quartet Plan was presented to stop the P.L.O. from pursuing their “UN bid”, or pressing it for a vote, because Israel was terribly upset, and the U.S. threatened to use their veto power to block it in the UN Security Council.

At the first 3-month mark, the two parties were to have met, and they were to have exchanged ideas on what the borders for a two-state solution should look like, and on security arrangements.

So, what has happened?

In December, the Palestinians let it be known that if Israel doesn’t present its idea of borders for a two-state solution by this date, the “hudna” or “truce would be over, and the Palestinians would again unleash all efforts for international recognition and admission to the international organization.

In a calm and rather leisurely reaction, the U.S. State Department said a few days later that the three-month marker was not a rigid or fixed “deadline” … and urged efforts to continue to bring the parties back to the table for direct negotiations.

[Only the Palestinians were refusing, saying it would be useless, mainly because Israeli settlement-building activities continued, while Israeli officials said to anyone who would listen that they were ready for direct talks, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu even repeated his offer to go anywhere, almost anytime — even to Ramallah…]

Then, King Abdullah II of Jordan flew by helicopter over the Israeli-controlled West Bank and landed in the refurbished helicopter pad at Ramallah Presidential Muqata’a for a meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas — a day before Abbas himself was due to travel through Jordan, on his way to another session of Palestinian reconciliation talks with Hamas officials in Cairo… Little was revealed publicly about that meeting, and some diplomatic sources suggested that the real purpose was that Abdullah needed help and had panicked, and was really asking Mahmoud Abbas for help .

What is more significant is that U.S. State Department envoy David Hale, who had met Abbas the evening before, was back in Jerusalem to meet Israeli PM Netanyahu just before Abdullah II landed in Ramallah. Then, Hale drove overland to Amman, and met Abdallah II back in Amman that evening.

Not long afterwards, Jordan announced that it would be hosting talks between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators in Amman — which would include direct meetings for the first time since September 2010. Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh announced that further contacts would be held — but not announced.

The U.S. Secretary of State then announced the date of the second meeting, in early January…

There was criticism from different Palestinian political groupings, from Hamas to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine [PFLP], and Palestinian “youth groups” organized a couple of demonstrations outside the Muqata’a to protest.

A total of five meetings were held in Amman, prior to today’s deadline.

The Palestinians presented their maps and border proposals in an early meeting.

It was not until the last meeting of negotiators [the P.L.O.’s Saeb Erekat, and Israel’s Yitzhak Molcho] that the Israeli delegation screeched up to the meeting, just hours before the deadline, with a kind of power-point presentation about its general ideas — but reportedly without any very specific indications of what Israel thought the borders for a two-state solution should be… and not much indication about security, either.

Continue reading The Quartet's 3-month "deadline" comes + goes

Saeb Erekat: We declared our independence in 1988 – it's up to the international community to declare recognition"

Haaretz service is reporting that Saeb Erekat, chief Palestinian negotiator, said in an interview with Turkish state television TRT that “A unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state is ‘not on the agenda’ … ‘We declared our independence in 1988’, Erekat said. ‘Now it’s up to the international community to declare recognition of our independence … Our option is a two-state solution. We have recognized the state of Israel and its right to exist on the 1967 borders. Now it’s up to the international community to stand firm and recognize Palestine on the 1967 lines with Jerusalem as its capital’.”

According to Haaretz, Erekat also said in the interview that: “Our position is that the key to direct negotiations is in the hand of Mr. Netanyahu … The minute he stops settlement activities including natural growth in Jerusalem, the minute he agrees to go to permanent status talks, where we left them in December 2008, we’ll have direct talks … The Israelis have a choice, settlements or peace. They can’t have both”. These remarks are reported here.

On the renewed demand for recognition of Israel as "Jewish State" or "State of the Jewish people"

In his latest weekly article, distributed by email and to a number of media outlets, veteran Israeli peace campaigner Uri Avnery takes on Benyamin Netanyahu’s lack of bustle and vigor during his first 100 days in office. Avnery wrote there are “No plans, no assistants, no team, no nothing. To this very minute, Netanyahu has not succeeded in putting together his personal team – a fundamental precondition for any effective action. He does not have a chief of staff, a most important position. In his office, chaos reigns supreme”.

On Netanyahu’s choice of ministers, Avnery wrote that “All these appointments look like the desperate efforts of a cynical politician who does not care about anything other than returning to power, and then quickly putting together a cabinet, whatever its composition, paying any price to any party prepared to join him, sacrificing even the most vital interests of the state”.

The worst problem, Avnery stated, is in the political field, “Because there the unpreparedness of Netanyahu meets the overpreparedness of Obama. Obama has a plan for the restructuring of the Middle East, and one of its elements is an Israeli-Palestinian peace based on ‘Two States for Two Peoples’. Netanyahu argues that he is not in a position to respond, because he has no plan of his own yet. After all, he is quite new in office. Now he is working on such a plan. Very soon, in a week, or a month, or a year, he will have a plan, a real plan, and he will present it to Obama. Or course, Netanyahu has a plan. It consists of one word, which he learned from his mentor, Yitzhak Shamir: ‘NO’. Or, more precisely, NO NO NO – the three no’s of the Israeli Khartoum: No peace, No withdrawal, No negotiations. (It will be remembered that the 1967 Arab summit conference in Khartoum, right after the Six-day War, adopted a similar resolution.) The ‘plan’ which he is working on does not really concern the essence of this policy, but only the packaging. How to present to Obama something that will not sound like ‘no’, but rather like ‘yes, but’ … As a taster for the ‘plan’, Netanyahu has already presented one of its ingredients: the demand that the Palestinians and other Arabs must recognize Israel as ‘the State of the Jewish People’.”

Continue reading On the renewed demand for recognition of Israel as "Jewish State" or "State of the Jewish people"

Saeb Erekat: Americans should "judge" negotiations process

On the day that Palestinians were marking 41 years of occupation, Palestinian negotiator Sa’eb Erekat told journalists in his office in Ramallah on Thursday, “we are a nation that is interrupted – economically, socially, politically, and in every sense. Yet in 2008, there are those who do not understand, even external forces”.

At that moment, there was a cut in electrical power for the second time in a few minutes.
As everyone laughed, Erekat joked: “Even the electricity is interrupted”

“It should have been different”, Erekat continued, “today should have been different…but Palestinians are still Palestinians…So, what are you going to do with us?”

Erekat agreed that the current impasse in negotiations with Israel “cannot stand”.

He was speaking as some Palestinians openly speculated that the end to the negotiations with Israel are near – and saying that this is what prompted Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to make an unusual call for renewed national dialogue, as if he might have dropped his preconditions, starting with the return of Gaza to Ramallah’s control, nearly one year after Hamas fighters routed Fatah forces.

But, Erekat said in response to one journalist’s question, “Abu Mazen did deliver an initiative yesterday, but it was according to the Yemeni initiative that was launched in the Damascus summit last year. Everybody knows it begins with Hamas rescinding its coup. Everyone knows, also, that Hamas won the last elections – but they have since failed – big time…When was the last time you read the Yemeni initiative? Abbas said [Wednesday evening] that he wants to see the Yemeni initiative implemented. He was very clear”.

In any case, Erekat added, anticipating other unspoken questions, any eventual outcome of negotiations with the Israelis “will be put to a referendum. If Palestinians say ‘yes’, we will implement it from our side. If the Palestinians say ‘no’, then Abu Mazen will say goodbye”.

Erekat said that the negotiations with an Israeli team led by Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni are “serious … and, .for the first time, we have opened all files, and we are now at the prisoners’ file…We are trying to revive hope, but the choice is Israel’s … We have defined the end game, which is to end the 1967 Israeli occupation according to the Road Map. We have serious negotiations for the first time in seven years, and we are taking a needs-oriented approach”.

What is that, one journalist asked? “You know, my needs, their needs. What do you want to know? I’m not going to show you the map”, Erekat replied.

Erekat pointed out that “in Annapolis, we chose a trilateral arrangement, in which there would be a ‘judge’, an American ‘judge’ (on behalf of the Quartet) … The question here is for the Americans and the other members of the Quartet: Isn’t it time for the ‘judge’ to speak out? There is no such thing as a secret ‘judge’…Since Annapolis there have been more settlements, more incursions, more faits accomplis. Now, at a time we are trying to revive hopes for peace, this American ‘judge’ should come out in the open and say who’s complying and who’s not – giving just the truth, just the facts. Otherwise, is it a cover-up for Israeli activities? This cannot stand any more”.

“I really urge the Americans to introduce their comments”, Erekat continued. Decisions on Jerusalem, security, borders, refugees and so on are required from both Israelis and Palestinians. You as journalists should be able to call up and ask the ‘judge’ who is complying on this matter or that. This current situation cannot continue”.

A journalist then asked: “You are saying the Israelis are not serious, so what are you waiting for?” Erekat replied “There is nothing wrong with negotiations, since Adam and Eve. Negotiations are not the end, they are the means. I don’t want to stop negotiations, I want to stop Israeli settlements, I want to stop Israeli incursions. And I want the international community to help us make Israel comply with its obligations under the Road Map”.

Erekat clearly put more hope in the evaluation being made by Lt. General William Fraser – appointed as Mr. Road Map Implementation by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice just before President Bush’s visit to the region in January – than in comments made by leading contenders for the Democratic Party nomination to be the next U.S. President.

On Barak Obama: “I thought he was a man of change…but when he says that Jerusalem will remain the undivided capital of Israel, I say to him, ‘Sir, you are closing all doors to peace’. I don’t care if he’s pro-Israeli or not. My concern is about those who are pro-peace or not. U.S. Policy hasn’t changed since the ‘70’s. The U.S. Embassy is still in Tel Aviv, and the U.S. policy still says that Jerusalem is occupied”.

To Hilary Clinton: “If someone loses his home, his schools, his livelihood, his parents in New York, what do you call it? We call it a catastrophe – and we have here a catastrophe that has lasted 60 years”.

Erekat: There will be no Palestinian concessions on percentage of territorial swaps

“We know what it takes to make peace between Palestinians and Israelis” veteran Palestinian negotiator Sa’eb Erekat said at a press conference on Wednesday.  “We only need President Abbas and Prime Minister Olmert to make the decisions…If these two can deliver they will be the most important persons to walk the streets here since Jesus Christ”. 

“Now is the time for decisions”, veteran Palestinian negotiator Sa’eb Erekat said at a press conference at the American Colony Hotel in East Jerusalem on Wednesday, where he was invited to speak to the members of the Foreign Press Association in Israel. 

 Erekat is an expert at speaking in short sound bytes.

 “We like to play with words”, Erekat told the journalists, though clearly referring to various statements made only by Israeli leaders to the effect that, with luck, what might happen this year would be more a “framework”, or “parameters”, of an agreement, rather than the actual formation of an independent Palestinian state. 

Erekat seemed to be indicating that it didn’t matter what the result would be called.

“Signing agreements doesn’t make peace … The only lasting agreements are the fair ones”, Erekat said.

He said he was under oath not to speak about or disclose the details of the current negotiations.  “What I said is that what needs to be done is to take decisions … What is needed is decisions, not negotiations”, Erekat said.

“I’ve never seen the Palestinians and Israelis closer to achieving an end game”, Erekat said.  And, “it’s the Palestinians and Israelis who must make the necessary decisions”, and not a third party, he said.   He did add that “U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice is coming in two weeks, and American diplomats are on the phone every hour.  But now it’s the moment of truth — It’s either settlements or peace”. 

“President Bush has no right to discuss with Israel ceding some territory in Palestine.  He can cede New Mexico, maybe, but not here”, Erekat said.  “One day in 1995, Jordan decided to cede 29,000 square kilometers [to Israel, in the context of a peace treaty].  We’re different”.

“Without giving me the percentage of [territorial] swaps”, Erekat said, “there will be no agreement”.  But “with the percentage of agreed swaps, you’ll get an agreement in three months”, Erekat said.  “The end game is defined and the rest is all technicalities, and if you settle them, you’ll get a treaty of 1,000 pages in three months”.

“Some Palestinian leaders are throwing options in the air, Kosovo has unilaterally declared independence, and so will we, etc.  But we are not playing with that”, Erekat said.  “We have been elected to achieve something – we have a mandate – and if we fail to deliver, then what?  Shouldn’t we tell our people the truth?” 

Erekat added: “I don’t want to export fear, but if we fail to deliver in 2008, we will disappear.  There’ll be a big question about the ability of the Palestinian Authority to survive.  I mean me, and what I represent.  And the impact will not be confined to the Palestinians and the Israelis – watch the region!”

Asked to explain what negotiations are taking place with the Egyptians, and with the Yemenis, Erekat replied: “Yesterday Egypt talked with the Israelis, and today with the Palestinian factions…What the Egypt is trying to do is upon the personal request of  President Abbas to President Mubarak.  Egypt has contacts with all the Palestinian factions and the Israelis. Egypt wants ‘tahdiya’ with guarantees that no one will break it.  As far as Yemen is concerned, Hamas must go back to what things were…Hamas must rescind their coup d’etat”. 

Erekat said: “The coup d’etat in Gaza is the worst thing that happened to us since 1967.  Hamas is a Palestinian party, like me.  The difference is that we believe we can achieve peace through negotiations, but Hamas says No, you cannot … Hamas said, since we won the elections, we want to change the previously-negotiated agreements … But anyone in government must accept all the obligations … Any Palestinian government has to be on board with the program: negotiations for peace, based on a two-state solution, aiming at a signed agreement”.

Erekat rejected all the efforts by journalists to arrive at a precise definition of the meaning of “tahdiya” in English  — he said it’s not détente, not cooling off, not cease-fire, not calm, not a truce .

But what should happen, he said, is “a mutual ‘tahdiya‘ between two sides, to stop shooting, everybody is to stop shooting”.

He added: “We accepted the Yemeni proposal, as we accepted the Mecca agreement, and the Egyptian-Cairo agreement, and we said there is no military solution.  We need agreement with Israel, and we will put it to a national public referendum”. 

In response to a question from the BBC Arabic TV, asking whether the problem in the negotiations might, maybe, be with the negotiations team itself, Erekat replied:  “I hear this a lot, by the way.  I’ve resigned, I quit. 46 times.  But the problem is not personalised.  I don’t want my son to grow up to be a suicide bomber.  We’ve established the best negotiations team in the Middle East, our (PLO) Negotiations Support Unit, which has expert advisers from all over the world who assist in developing negotiating positions… In 1992, I made more money as a journalist and university professor than I have in all the years since…and I’m not here for journalists to ask me such questions”. 

Saeb Erekat says Palestinian negotiators should not acknowledge Israel as Jewish state

Although the Palestine National Council has already done so, Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat has “rejected Israel’s demand that the Palestinians acknowledge Israel as a Jewish state”, according to both the Jerusalem Post and Haaretz. Both newspapers are reporting that Erekat said in an interview with Radio Palestine that “There is no country in the world where religious and national identities are intertwined.” Erekat told Radio Palestine.

The Palestine Liberation Organization’s late leader, Yasser Arafat, proclaimed a Palestinian State in 1988 on the basis of UN General Assembly Resolution 181, which stated that the British Mandate of Palestine should be divided into two parts, one Jewish and one Arab.

The JPost says that “A senior official in the Prime Minister’s Office said in response that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert insists that the Palestinians recognize Israel’s Jewish identity, as a condition for Israeli recognition of a Palestinian state … Meanwhile, Olmert told the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that the peace conference scheduled to take place in Annapolis in late November would last for a single day. The conference, the prime minister said, would serve to launch negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, and be a one-time event geared towards gaining international support for the talks”.

The JPost report is here

Haaretz is reporting that Olmert said Monday: “We won’t hold negotiations on our existence as a Jewish state, this is a launching point for all negotiations … We won’t have an argument with anyone in the world over the fact that Israel is a state of the Jewish people. Whoever does not accept this cannot hold any negotiations with me. This has been made clear to the Palestinians and the Americans. I have no doubt that Abu Mazen [Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas] and [PA premier Salam] Fayad are committed to prior agreements and want to make peace with Israel as a Jewish state,” Olmert continued … Olmert told the gathering that immediately at the start of negotiations following the summit, Israel will set a precondition that the Palestinians recognize Israel as ‘a Jewish state’. ‘I do not intend to compromise in any way over the issue of the Jewish state’, Olmert said, thereby accepting the position of Livni and Barak. ‘This will be a condition for our recognition of a Palestinian state’. Olmert said he raised the importance of this issue during his talks with European and American officials, and their response had been positive. However, during talks in recent weeks between the Israeli and Palestinian negotiating teams, the Palestinians refused to include the recognition of Israel as a Jewish state in the shared declaration the teams are preparing, which will be made at Annapolis. Erekat’s statement to Israel Radio on Monday did not seem to imply that refusal would waver ahead of the summit…” The Haaretz account of Erekat’s and Olmert’s remarks on recognition of Israel as a Jewish state are here.

There are already 557 comments on Erekat’s remarks posted on the Haaretz website.