In her new memoir, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice confirms that Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas rejected generous territorial concessions offered by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in 2008.
When she traveled to Jerusalem in May 2008, Olmert invited Rice to dinner to outline his plan for Israeli-Palestinian peace. Rice recounts that she was shocked by how far the Israeli leader was willing to go. Olmert was prepared to give up nearly the entire West Bank and to divide Jerusalem with the Arab world.
Olmert offered to make Jerusalem the capital of two states - Israel in the western part and a Palestinian capital in the east. The Old City of Jerusalem would be administered by a committee made up of so-called wise people including Palestinians, Jordanians, Saudis, Americans and Israelis.
"They will oversee the city, but not in a political role," Olmert told Rice. And he offered another concession – offering to allow 5,000 Palestinian refugees to settle in Israel.
Rice was incredulous. "Am I really hearing this? I wondered. Is the Israeli prime minister saying that he'll divide Jerusalem and put an international body in charge of the Holy sites?"
The following day, Rice brought Olmert's proposal to Abbas in Ramallah. He rejected it, telling Rice the PA could not agree to a deal that prevented nearly 4 million Palestinians from being able to "go home" (i.e., to return to their ancestors' former homes in pre-Six Day War Israel).
On Sep. 16, 2008, Olmert presented Abbas with a similar plan for a two-state solution. The Palestinians said no, effectively killing the Olmert plan.
More detail on the breakdown of the talks comes from the Palestine Papers – documents about a decade of Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations that were stolen from PA negotiator Saeb Erakat's office, leaked to al-Jazeerah and posted on the media outlet's website in January.
As the Jerusalem Post noted on Tuesday, these documents show that PA negotiators talked out of both sides of their mouths – speaking publicly about compromise with Israel on Palestinian refugees while privately describing the "right of return" as an individual right that must be extended to 7 million Palestinians – a formula most Israelis regard as a demographic blueprint for the destruction of their country.
The documents also show that Washington was apparently unaware that, in preparation for the September 16 meeting, the PA was trying to come up with plans to avoid reaching a binding agreement with Israel and to avoid blame for failing reach a final-status agreement with the Jewish state.