The US would have accepted 100,000 Palestinian refugees had Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas accepted then-prime minister Ehud Olmert’s diplomatic overtures in 2008, Olmert said on Sunday.

In a speech sponsored by the Geneva Initiative at Tel Aviv’s Eretz Israel Museum, Olmert outlined the offer he made the Palestinians at the end of his premiership, which included a contiguous Palestinian state, transferring control over Jerusalem’s “holy basin,” an area including the Old City, to the stewardship of five countries, and accepting thousands of Palestinian refugees into Israel on humanitarian grounds.

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“The US would have been willing to accept 100,000 refugees,” he said, revealing a previously unknown detail of his negotiations with Abbas.

Olmert said that in all of his talks with world leaders, none expected Israel to accept all the Palestinian refugees. But he said he was proud to be the first Israeli prime minister to express sympathy with their plight. He said a limited number of refugees could be accepted on the basis of the Saudi diplomatic initiative.

On Jerusalem, Olmert revealed that he gave Abbas maps with a detailed border down to specific houses, roads and tunnels.

“Whoever wants to solve the conflict with the Palestinians must deal immediately with the five core issues, because if we solve them, we can solve the rest of the problems,” he said. “Whoever thinks they can deal with water before dealing with borders will never deal with borders.”

Olmert said the Palestinians now regret not accepting his offer. In veiled criticism of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, he challenged him to put reaching a diplomatic agreement ahead of staying in power.

“I don’t doubt the current prime minister’s resolve to protect Israel’s security,” Olmert said. “But when a man reaches such a lofty position, he must consider: What will you do with the time you have? “You must be loyal to the truth you believe in,” he said.

“You can’t abandon this responsibility because of political considerations.”



Regarding Netanyahu’s construction moratorium in Judea and Samaria, Olmert said the Palestinians and the American administration did not agree with the building that he did in the West Bank, but they agreed to accept it and the Palestinians did not use it as an excuse to avoid advancing the diplomatic process.

Olmert said he did not believe US President Barack Obama was hostile to Israel, and that it was not in Israel’s interest to suggest otherwise.

“There is no difference between the views of George W. Bush, who is acknowledged as the ultimate friend of Israel, and the views of Obama,” Olmert said.

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