(MAP OF EHUD OLMERT’S OFFER TO MAHMOUD ABBAS, VIA HAARETz.COM/IMEU)
David Ignatius adds another chapter to the endless corporate media narrative of Palestinian rejectionism in a recent Washington Post column.
The column relies on former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice’s description in her memoir of a proposed Israeli peace offer to Mahmoud Abbas that was presented in the summer of 2008, an offer Ignatius calls “the Mideast deal that could have been.” But Ignatius’ sole reliance on Rice’s telling of the deal ignores evidence that Olmert’s offer was highly problematic for a potential state of Palestine. A closer look at the column is needed, especially because the narrative Ignatius advances has been getting a lot of play lately; the excerpts of the memoir that Ignatius relies on were published with the laughable title “Best. Deal. Ever” in Newsweek magazine last month.
Ignatius, an associate editor at the Post, writes:
As Rice tells the story, Olmert developed a comprehensive plan, which he presented secretly to Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, in the summer of 2008. By September, the details of Olmert’s offer included:
● Israeli transfer of sovereignty of 94.2 percent of the West Bank to the new Palestinian state. He offered additional swaps of land, and a corridor linking the West Bank and Gaza, that would bring the total Palestinian land area to 100 percent of the pre-1967 borders of the West Bank.
● A formula for dividing Jerusalem that would give Arab neighborhoods to the Palestinians and Jewish neighborhoods to Israel, with negotiators working out the status of mixed neighborhoods. Each country would have Jerusalem as its capital; there would be a joint city council with an Israeli mayor and a Palestinian deputy mayor.
● The Old City would be administered by an international committee with representatives from Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the European Union and the United States. Questions of sovereignty in Jerusalem would be fudged, with each side rejecting the other’s claims.
● The “right of return” for Palestinians would be limited to about 5,000. To compensate other Palestinian refugees, a fund of several billion dollars would be created, under Norwegian administration.
● The United States would protect Israel’s security not just with U.S. power but by training a reliable Palestinian security force
He concludes the column by writing: “Olmert’s map, now dust in the wind, may be the best formula we’ll ever get for the peaceful creation of the Palestinian state that will cement Israel’s own security.” But the devil is in the details–and a close look at Olmert and his team’s offer shows that it was far from being a credible offer that the Palestinian leadership could bring back to its people.
Documents released as part of the “Palestine Papers” definitively show that Olmert’s offer was nothing special; it would instead have confined Palestinians to disconnected enclaves that bear no resemblance to a contiguous state.
The following excerpt specifically deals with the back and forth over two crucial settlements, Ariel and Ma’ale Adumim, whose annexation by Israel would render any Palestinian state a meaningless and non-contiguous.
Here’s an excerpt from a June 15, 2008 document titled “Trilateral Meeting Minutes”:
Abu Ala: – We do not want to live in enclaves. We want people to live in peace and to fight against terrorism.
* Perhaps Maale Adumim will remain under Palestinian sovereignty and it could be a model for cooperation and coexistence. We may also have international forces and make security arrangements for some time. It is the location of Maale Adumim not its size.
* There is also Ariel settlement which was set up on the largest water basin. It was not set up simply to provide Israeli with housing units but rather to control the water basin.
Livni: – The idea behind our desire to annex Ariel settlement was not to get more water but because thousands of people live there. We want to have an answer for those who have lived there for forty years.
And, as the Guardian noted, in the “Palestine Papers” Condoleeza Rice is seen pushing the Israeli position of “no deal without Ariel and Ma’ale Adumim”:
If the Palestinians kept insisting that Israel could not keep the large settlements of Ma’ale Adumim (near Jerusalem) and Ariel (in the heart of the West Bank), Rice told them: “You won’t have a state”. No Israeli leader could accept a deal “without including them in an Israeli state”.
The settlements of Ariel and Ma’ale Adumim weren’t the only obstacle, though. The Institute for Middle East Understanding has a useful list of the other big problems with Olmert’s deal:
-According to Ha’aretz, much of the land Olmert reportedly offered Abbas in exchange for crucial areas of Jerusalem and the West Bank was carved out of the barren Judean Desert, south of the West Bank.
-Olmert reportedly offered to allow the return of only 5,000 Palestinian refugees, a tiny fraction of the 4.3 million who are registered with the UN. This issue alone would have made it nearly impossible for Abbas to gain support for the plan among the Palestinian people.
-According to Rice’s account, Olmert demanded that Abbas sign his map without consulting his own advisors and legal experts, and refused to allow Abbas to take a copy of the map to the Palestinian negotiators. It would have been unusual and irresponsible for Abbas to unilaterally sign an agreement in secret and without first consulting his team.
-The negotiations brokered by Rice, which began at the 2007 Annapolis conference, were not designed to produce a final peace agreement. Rather, these talks had the less ambitious goal of a “shelf agreement,” to be implemented at a later date.
-By the time Olmert made his offer, he had been under investigation for corruption for months and was fending off calls for his resignation. Olmert’s political weakness at the time casts into doubt his ability to conclude a peace agreement.
Clearly, this was not “the Mideast deal that could have been.” The narrative that Ignatius and Rice are pushing is just peace process fiction.