Former Israeli PM Ehud Olmert (R) with PA Chair Mahmoud Abbas in November 2008. (Moshe Milner/GPO/Flash90) (Moshe Milner/GPO/Flash90)
Abbas and Olmert
Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas

PA leader Mahmoud Abbas. (AP)

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas for the first time conceded his rejection of an Israeli peace offer in 2008 that would have prepared the ground for a Palestinian state in much of the disputed territory.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has publicly confirmed for the first time that he turned down a peace offer in 2008 that would have provided for an independent Palestinian state containing all of the Gaza Strip, much of the Judea and Samaria (with land swaps), and a tunnel connecting the two areas.

Abbas made his comments in an interview on Israel’s Channel 10, which has been broadcasting a three-part series on the peace talks of 2000 and 2008. According to both Abbas and Ehud Olmert, Israel’s prime minister in 2008, Olmert presented Abbas in September of that year with a map that delineated the borders of a future State of Palestine. Abbas said that he “rejected it out of hand” because he claimed not to be an expert on maps, and because Olmert’s domestic scandals meant that he would shortly leave office (Olmert was later convicted of corruption). While both Olmert and other Palestinian leaders have previously said that Abbas turned down a peace proposal, this is the first time that the Palestinian Authority president has admitted as such.

‘I Rejected it Out of Hand’

At one point in the video, Channel 10 reporter Raviv Drucker asked Abbas: “In the map that Olmert presented you, Israel would annex 6.3 percent [of the West Bank] and compensate the Palestinians with 5.8 percent [taken from pre-1967 Israel]. What did you propose in return?”

Kerry and Abbas

US Secretary John Kerry, who led later peace negotiations that also ended in failure, with PA head Abbas. (Issam Rimawi/Flash90)

“I did not agree,” Abbas replied. “I rejected it out of hand.”

A few minutes later, Drucker pressed again:

Drucker: Why, really, did you not accept Olmert’s offer?

Abbas: He [Olmert] said to me, “Here’s a map. See it? That’s all.” I respected his decision not to give me the map. But how can we sign something that hasn’t been given us, that hasn’t been discussed?

The existence of the peace offer was first reported by The Tower’s Avi Issacharoff in 2013, when Olmert told him that he presented Abbas with a map proposal during talks at the Prime Minister’s Residence. Shortly after Olmert’s presentation, Abbas redrew that version of the map from memory, in order to make sure that he and Olmert were on the same page. Issacharoff acquired a photograph of that map (see photo).

Abbas silenced those present so that he could concentrate. He wanted to sketch out Olmert’s map from memory. The prime minister had told him that as long as Abu Mazen (Abbas’ nom de guerre) did not sign his initials to the map and endorse it, Olmert would not hand over a copy. Abu Mazen took a piece of letterhead of the Presidential Office and drew on it the borders of the Palestinian state as he remembered them.

Abbas marked the settlement blocks that Israel would retain: The Ariel bloc, the Jerusalem-Maaleh Adumim bloc (including E1), and Gush Etzion. A total of 6.3% of the West Bank (Judea and Samaria). Then Abbas also drew the territories that Israel proposed to offer in their place: In the area of Afula-Tirat Zvi, in the Lachish area, the area close to Har Adar, and in the Judean desert and the Gaza envelope. A total of 5.8% of the West Bank. Abu Mazen wrote on the left side of the letterhead the numbers as he incorrectly remembered them (6.8% and 5.5%), and on the back he wrote the rest of the details of the proposal: Safe passage between Gaza and the West Bank via a tunnel, the pentilateral committee to administer the Holy Basin, the removal of the Israeli presence in the Jordan Valley and the absorption of 5,000 Palestinian refugees, 1,000 each year over five years, inside the Green Line.

Abbas’ hand-drawn map, sketched on the stationery of the Palestinian Office of the President and obtained by TheTower.org in the course of this investigative report about the clandestine negotiations between Olmert and Abbas, was published on that site exclusively. The two men met 36 times, mostly in Jerusalem and once in Jericho, and arrived at a formula that was to be the basis for a lasting agreement between the two parties. But in the end, peace accords between Israel and the Palestinians were not signed, despite the far-reaching proposal made by Olmert. As an official matter, the Palestinian Authority has not responded.

The next day, Abbas called off talks, saying that he had to attend a meeting in Jordan.

Abbas: ‘I Am Not in a Marketplace’

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat had a similar recollection when interviewed by Al Jazeera in 2009:

“Olmert, who talked today about his proposal to Abu Mazen, offered the 1967 borders, but said: ‘We will take 6.5% of the West Bank, and give in return 5.8% from the 1948 lands, and the 0.7% will constitute the safe passage, and East Jerusalem will be the capital, but there is a problem with the Haram and with what they called the Holy Basin.’ Abu Mazen too answered with defiance, saying: ‘I am not in a marketplace or a bazaar. I came to demarcate the borders of Palestine – the June 4, 1967 borders – without detracting a single inch, and without detracting a single stone from Jerusalem, or from the holy Christian and Muslim places.’ This is why the Palestinian negotiators did not sign.”

Abbas’ comments on Channel 10 were first picked up in English by veteran Associated Press reporter Mark Lavie.

By: The Tower

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