WASHINGTON – A new memoir by former US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice will
be released Tuesday, but the lengthy book has already raised uproars in Israel
and abroad before it hits the shelves.
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Rice’s description of the failure
of the 2008 peace talks demonstrated key silences regarding American
understanding of the Palestinian position, as detailed in papers leaked to the
press earlier this year.
Rice said that in spring of 2008 both she and
then-president George W. Bush had “both been impressed by Israeli Prime Minister
Ehud Olmert’s desire to get a deal.”
The former secretary of state
recounted an evening in Jerusalem in May when she was asked to dine alone with
Olmert. The then-prime minister presented her with an outline for a peace
“I know what [Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas] needs. He needs
something on refugees and on Jerusalem. I’ll give him enough land, maybe
something like 94 percent with swaps. I have an idea about Jerusalem. There will
be two capitals, one for us in west Jerusalem and one for the Palestinians in
The mayor of the joint-city council will be selected by
population percentage. That means an Israeli mayor, so the deputy should be a
Palestinian. We will continue to provide security for the Holy sites because we
can assure access to them,” Olmert told her.
“I’ll accept some
Palestinians into Israel, maybe five thousand.
I don’t want it to be
called ‘family reunification’ because they have too many cousins; we won’t be
able to control it. I’ve been thinking about how to administer the Old City.
There should be a committee of people – not officials but wise people – from
Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the Palestinians, the United States and Israel. They will
oversee the city but not in a political role,” he continued.
recalled her incredulity: “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? Concentrate. Write this down. No, don’t write it
down. What if it leaks? It can’t leak; it’s just the two of us.”
said that she visited Abbas in Ramallah the next day. “I sketched out the
details of Olmert’s proposal and told him how the prime minister wanted to
proceed. Abbas started negotiating immediately. “I can’t tell four million
Palestinians that only 5,000 of them can go home,” he said.”
is silent on the ensuing breakdown of talks – missing pieces are actually
supplied by the Palestine Papers – documents memorializing 10 years of
Palestinian-Israeli negotiations that were stolen from Saeb Erekat’s office and
posted on al-Jazeera’s website last January.
negotiators spoke publicly about compromise on refugees, privately they spoke of
the “right of return” as a matter of individual choice that would have to be
extended to each of over seven million people and with Palestinians retaining
the open-ended right to try to negotiate additional “returns” beyond any number
initially agreed upon in a peace treaty.
Abbas was simply unprepared to
accept any offer that did not allow for the “right of return.”
recounted how on September 16, 2008 Olmert presented Abbas with a groundbreaking
offer for a two-state solution including a map outlining the territory of a
Palestinian state. Rice confirmed reports that Olmert insisted that Abbas sign
then and there, but that Abbas “demurred, wanting to consult his experts before
Olmert, Rice said, refused to give Abbas the map – a fact that
the Palestinians have said proves that Olmert’s offer was not
But the Palestine Papers indicate that on September 16, the
Palestinians drew-up a map that seems to outline with great specificity the
offer made by Olmert, in spite of the fact that they complained he would not
give them a copy of the map.
Abbas asked for a meeting the next day with
his advisers present.
The meeting the next day was never held – Rice did
not say why, but Olmert has since said that he received a call from Saeb Erekat
requesting that the meeting be postponed.
The US administration seems to
have been unaware that in preparation for the September 16 meeting the PA was
trying to generate escape plans from reaching a binding agreement with Olmert,
while at the same time avoiding being blamed for not reaching a final status
“SE [PA Negotiator Saeb Erekat] thinks there are three ways
[Abbas] could respond: (1) Give [Olmert] our Framework Agreement on Permanent
Status, (2) Issue general communique about Annapolis progress, (3) Simply say no
to the offer,” one September 9, 2008 memo from Hala Rasheed read.
wants us to think up other ways to respond. Whatever we propose, he wants to
make sure that: (a) we are not blamed, (b) [negotiations] are uninterrupted, and
(c) no submission is made that we cannot retract.”
A memo to other NSU
members dated September 16 from Wassim Khazmo, a communications adviser on the
PA negotiating team, revealed that Palestinians intended to treat the September
16 meeting as “ceremonial” rather than directed toward advancing negotiations
and possibly reaching a peace agreement.
“In order to avoid the blame
game, the President today is going with a positive attitude, where he will ask
more questions from Olmert on his offer, and he will tell him that the
Palestinians will respond later,” Khazmo wrote.
Khazmo was particularly
concerned that Abbas avoid what he described as “Olmert’s media
Even after the September 16 meeting failed to culminate in a
peace deal, Rice said that she continued to push hard for talks, “worried that
there might never be another chance like this one.”
Her memoirs, however,
are silent on the revelation in the Palestine Papers that the Palestinians were
concerned by her insistence on advancing the peace plan.