In the Weekly Standard I commented recently on the account former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert has given of the peace negotiations he led near the end of his term in office. Here are some excerpts; the article is found here.
Here is Olmert, describing his negotiations with PLO chairman and Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas:
I was within touching distance of a peace agreement. The Palestinians never rejected my offers. And even if on the thousandth time there are people who are going to try to say that they rejected my offers, the reality was otherwise. They didn’t accept them, and there’s a difference. They didn’t accept them because the negotiations weren’t concluded; they were on the verge of conclusion....The gaps were very small, we had already reached the very last final stretch.
I worried that there might never be another chance like this one…. to have an Israeli prime minister on record offering those remarkable elements and a Palestinian president accepting them would have pushed the peace process to a new level. Abbas refused. We had one last chance. The two leaders came separately in November and December to say good-bye. The President took Abbas into the Oval Office alone and appealed to him to reconsider. The Palestinian stood firm, and the idea died.
Then there is the Palestinian version, which was offered in early 2009 by the chief Palestinian negotiator then and now, Saeb Erekat. In a debate televised on Al Jazeera, Erekat went on at length and explained that there was really no chance Abbas was going to accept Olmert’s proposal:
The Palestinian negotiators could have given in in 1994, 1998, or 2000, and two months ago, brother Abu Mazen could have accepted a proposal that talked about Jerusalem and almost 100% of the West Bank....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…
Olmert may say the Palestinians never turned him down, but that is not their version nor is it Rice’s.
Olmert may have believed he was on the verge of peace and “in the very last final stretch,” but there is no evidence for this claim—and all the available evidence suggests that at Camp David the problem was a Palestinian leader who was unwilling to say yes and sign. We are today where we were in 2008 after the Annapolis meeting, or in 2000 after Camp David: The most any Israeli government can offer is less than the least any Palestinian leader is willing to take. That is why the statements of Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta last fall, telling Israelis and Palestinians to “just get to the damn table,” were so foolish. The gap that separates them remains a chasm, and bridging it is helped neither by demands for new negotiations that cannot today succeed, nor by fanciful accounts of past sessions.