Is there a deal?

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:

(I.)
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.

(II.)
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.

(III.)
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.

(IV.)
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.

(V.)
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.

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