RAMALLAH – If Ehud Olmert had remained in office for "maybe two months more," Israel and the Palestinian Authority would have reached a peace agreement, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told Israeli MKs in Ramallah on Sunday.
Abbas' words come three months before the elections and amid the pressure on former prime minister, Ehud Olmert, to face Benjamin Netanyahu, in the January poll.
Abbas met some 20 MKs, as well as activists and mayors from Kadima, Labor, Meretz and the Likud parties at the seat of Palestinian governance in the Muqata. The meeting was arranged by the Geneva Initiative, an organization dedicating to promoting peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
The main topic was the January elections, but Abbas insisted that they are an internal Israeli matter. Still, Abbas had no warm words for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, or Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, but praised former PM Olmert.
"During Olmert's time we had successes," Abbas said, "We didn't strike a deal but reached understandings in many of the core subjects. When Olmert left, Netanyahu arrived and refused to accept these understandings, insisting that we begin it all from the beginning. We didn’t agree to that. Netanyahu is destroying the two-state solution."
Abbas said that he still keeps in touch with Olmert, and revealed that he called and spoke to him on the phone two weeks ago, while in New York for the United Nations General Assembly. One of Abbas' advisors later told Haaretz that part of the conversation was dedicated to congratulating Olmert for the verdict in his trial, and the other to the peace process, but that the conversation stopped short of discussing Israeli political developments.
The Yeruham mayor Michael Biton (Labor) asked Abbas why they didn't reach an agreement despite the intensive negotiations in 2007-2008, to which the PA leader said: "Olmert and I worked hard, and met almost every week."
"Unfortunately, he suddenly retired. We discussed the borders, the exchange of territories and traded maps. We were close and reached many understandings. We agreed on the subject of security arrangements together with [U.S.] President [George] Bush according the plan drawn up by General [James L.] Jones. We agreed on the deployment of UN forces under U.S. command in the Palestinian state.
Abbas was also asked as to his opinion concerning the possibility that Olmert could make a return to politics, with the PA president saying: "I'm positive that if we had more time, maybe two months more, we could have struck a deal. If he returns or not - it's your internal matter if he will be prime minister again these are your elections and their results are an internal Israeli mater, but whoever wins should come to the negotiating table – we're willing to negotiate."