Olmert: Abbas Never Responded to My Peace Offer

Former PM tells Tel Aviv conference he was 'hours' from meeting Syria FM when Israel went to war in Gaza.

Haaretz Service
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Haaretz Service

Former prime minister Ehud Olmert said Sunday that during his tenure he offered Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas an unprecedented peace offer, based on a return to the 1967 borders and a fair demographic land arrangement which would see heavily Jewish areas in the West Bank remain under Israeli control.

"I offered a land swap, I offered a solution for Jerusalem, where the Jewish part would remain under Israeli authority and the Arab sections would be given to the jurisdiction of a Palestinian state," he told a conference at Tel Aviv University.

According to Olmert's plan, the Holy Basin would be demarcated under the rule of five different states with access available to believers of all religions. The offer was based on the agreements reached at a 2007 summit in Annapolis Maryland, Olmert said, and would be carried out in accordance with the Road Map for peace.

Olmert said he and Abbas had reached an interim agreement on the Palestinian right of return, but he never received a final response from the Palestinians on the matter.

"I found Abbas to be a fair partner, opposed to terror," said Olmert. "What happened? That is the question of all questions, which I would answer if I could. I hope that the State of Israel will put at the top of its agenda the fact that there was a peace proposal offered by a legitimate government... It's time the international community demand an answer from the Palestinians instead of arguing about a building here and a building there."

He said that although construction in the West Bank had been ongoing during his tenure, he found it counterproductive to base peace negotiations on that matter.

Olmert added that he had "reached the conclusion that in choosing between the greater Israel and a Jewish, democratic state, I prefer the latter," saying he knew it would be necessary to withdraw from much of the land the Palestinians want for a state.

Olmert also said he had been "hours" from meeting with the Syrian foreign minister during his tenure, but that the talks were canceled after Israel embarked on its offensive in the Gaza Strip.

Olmert told the conference that Turkey had acted with responsibility and fairness in its role as mediator in the indirect peace negotiations.

During Olmert's tenure, Turkey mediated five rounds of talks between Israeli and Syrian officials. Toward the end of Olmert's term the two sides were on the verge of resuming direct negotiations.

At the last meeting between Olmert and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish leader called Syrian President Bashar Assad and relayed messages to and from Olmert. But after Operation Cast Lead began in December 2008 and the freeze in negotiations with Syria, Erdogan said Olmert had stabbed him in the back.

A recent rise in tensions between Turkey and Israel has meanwhile prompted Israeli officials including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman to discount Ankara from serving as mediator in any future diplomatic negotiations with Syria.

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