I have a bit of a different take than Phil on Ehud Olmert's oped in today's Washington Post. I don't see hints at the one state solution, but I do see Olmert trying the resuscitate one of the all-time great lies of the Oslo peace process – the generous offer. Similar to how Ehud Barak blamed the Palestinians for not accepting permanent occupation in 2000, Olmert is now trying to claim that it is Palestinian intransigence, not the Israeli colonization of the West Bank, that is somehow to blame for the ongoing conflict. Olmert:
To this day, I cannot understand why the Palestinian leadership did not
accept the far-reaching and unprecedented proposal I offered them. My
proposal included a solution to all outstanding issues: territorial
compromise, security arrangements, Jerusalem and refugees.
It would be worth exploring the reasons that the Palestinians
rejected my offer and preferred, instead, to drag their feet, avoiding
real decisions. My proposal would have helped realize the "two-state
solution" in accordance with the principles of the U.S. administration,
the Israeli government I led and the criteria the Palestinian
leadership has followed throughout the years.
I believe it is crucial to review the lessons from the Palestinians' rejection of such an offer.
It's always difficult to tell with these types of opeds from notable Israelis whether they actually believe the stuff they're writing, or just taking Americans to be such halfwits that they feel they can just lie outright. I think this article is actually a combination of both. Olmert knows perfectly well why "the Palestinian leadership did not
accept the far-reaching and unprecedented proposal" he offered them. Here are some facts, provided by Ori Nir from Americans for Peace Now, that paint part of the picture:
- While Olmert held final-status negotiations with Mahmoud Abbas (between the Annapolis Conference in November 2007 and the end of his term), there was a 43% increase in construction-starts in settlements.
- During Olmert’s term as prime minister, 4,560 new housing units were constructed in settlements and 1,523 new tenders were issued for new housing units.
- Almost 1,500 new housing units were constructed east of the separation barrier (not in settlement blocs).
- Some 560 new structures were built in illegal outpost during Olmert’s term.
- None of the illegal outposts in the West Bank were removed during Olmert’s term.
In addition, Olmert's offer kept the majority of Israeli settlements and infrastructure in the West Bank, and would have resulted in permanent apartheid in the West Bank. Olmert knows this, but I'm sure he sees Israel struggling on the public relations front in the US and figures why not try to dust off one of Israel's greatest propaganda hits to try to gain favor? It's a cynical lie from a politician attempting to fix his image, and a desperate move from a country scrambling to regain its public relation footing. It should be treated as such.
There is one honest point of confusion in this piece. It is when Olmert tries to outline what the conflict is about:
The insistence now on a complete freeze on settlement construction —
impossible to completely enforce — will not promote Palestinian
efforts to enhance security measures; the institution building that is
so crucial for the development of a Palestinian state; better movement
and access to the Palestinians; nor an improved economy in the West
Bank. Nor will it weaken the Hamas government in Gaza. It will not
bring greater security to Israel, help improve Israel's relations with
the Arab world, strengthen a coalition of moderate Arab states or shift
the strategic balance in the Middle East.
This language is directly from the Bush playbook, and Olmert, and the Israeli government more widely, still don't understand that its time has passed (and, psst Ehud, ending settlement construction would improve Israel's relations with
the Arab world, just sayin'). Olmert places the entire onus on the Palestinians, allowing Israel to sit back and wait (and continue building settlements) until the Palestinians are "ready" for their freedom. The Bush administration was more than happy to oblige. Obama's shift, even if it's only rhetorical, is to refocus on Israel's responsibility as the occupying power. The Israelis are either tone deaf to this change, or in total denial that it's happening. Israeli officials just keep parroting the Bush administration understanding as if doing that will make it so. Instead, they just look more and more out of touch.
Olmert ends with "The time to deal with such important matters is running out. We cannot waste what time we do have on non-priority issues." He doesn't seem to understand that Israeli settlements have become a key matter to the US administration. Lies like like the generous offer will no longer work. The popular perception is shifting, and more and more people understand that it doesn't make sense for Palestinians to accept a "state" that has Israeli colonies and Jewish-only roads slicing through it. They also understand that Israel cannot claim to be engaged in a peace process and be actively undermining it at the same time.