Olmert's Toxic Legacy

After more than three years at the helm, one could have expected Olmert to know that he would continue to have no Palestinian partner for a deal that included less than all the territories, with mutual border adjustments.

Like Benjamin Netanyahu, Ariel Sharon, the last man of the right who restored Likud to power, smashed into an obstacle called "the peace process." Sharon escaped the problem quite easily, using the legacy of his predecessor, Ehud Barak, who coined the term "there is no partner." The man who climbed to power on the wings of the "Rabin legacy" pulled the chestnuts out of the fire for Sharon even before they got warm. What could they possibly want from him? After all, Barak is the one who gave the Palestinians the "most generous offer they ever got."

Barak exposed for Sharon the "real face" of Yasser Arafat, and Ehud Olmert exposed for Netanyahu the "real face" of Mahmoud Abbas. The outgoing prime minister claims he gave the Palestinians a better offer than Barak, but even this was not enough for them (which suggests that if the Palestinians had sufficed with Barak's offer, they would have been making a mistake). As a result of Olmert's generosity, Netanyahu gains a double legacy of "there is no partner." He gains this in addition to a boycott of Hamas, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad's resignation letter, and the exclusion of Marwan Barghouti from the prisoner-exchange deal for Gilad Shalit.

In one of his farewell events, Olmert confessed that "with my whole heart I wanted to be the one who makes the decision on an agreement with the Palestinians, and I came within a hair's breadth." Those who bad-mouth Olmert say he assumed/hoped that if he signed a peace agreement with the Palestinians and/or the Syrians, the media would help him avoid corruption charges. If this contains an iota of truth, the deceit behind the negotiations with Abbas is a crime worse than the Talansky cash-envelopes case or the Rishon Tours double-billing affair.

First, there was nothing binding in Olmert's talks with Abbas on the core issues. The two had agreed from the start that formal negotiations would be held between teams headed by Tzipi Livni and Ahmed Qureia. All the meetings between the two top leaders were held in private and no records were kept. The foreign minister and defense minister were excluded from the conversations at the Prime Minister's Residence, so that when Olmert showed Abbas a map, it had been prepared by someone outside the government.

Second, Olmert's "hair's breadth" extends over thousands of dunams and goes deep into Palestinian territory. The prime minister offered Abbas nearly 94 percent of the West Bank, but the 6 percent he sought to annex included the long finger (about 20 kilometers) of the settlement Ariel. The size of the territory in the western Negev and north of Beit Shean to be given in return translates into about 4.5 percent of the West Bank. Granting secure passage and use of Ashdod's port was meant to compensate the Palestinians for the difference, even though the 1.5 percent the Palestinians would have to give up is equivalent to 1.5 times the size of Tel Aviv.

Moreover, had Abbas taken up Olmert's offer on the arrangement for East Jerusalem, the Palestinians would have lynched him. The prime minister may have been willing to give up Palestinian "neighborhoods on the edge" of the capital. He also agreed to appoint a joint committee to run the affairs of the eastern part of the city and discuss its permanent status. But Olmert refused to grant the Palestinian state any symbol of sovereignty over the Old City and its cluster of sacred sites. His major concession was his willingness to accept the return of 30,000 refugees as a "humanitarian act." However, this point would not have been accepted by Kadima's current leader, Livni.

After more than three years at the helm, one could have expected Olmert to know that he would continue to have no Palestinian partner for a deal that included less than all the territories, with mutual border adjustments. Olmert should have known that the Palestinians offered their last concession 20 years ago, when the Palestinian National Council decided in Algiers to support the formula of two states for two peoples within the 1967 borders. In return, the PLO received American recognition of its demand for self-determination. The decision of the Palestinian National Council survived seven Israeli prime ministers and endless crises. After Olmert and before Netanyahu, the question was and has remained: Is there an Israeli partner?