Olmert: Abbas is Israel's best negotiating partner

Palestinian leader willing to hold Quartet-led talks with Israel on the basis of the 2008 Annapolis process he had engaged in with Olmert.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert hold a news conference in New York (photo credit: REUTERS)
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert hold a news conference in New York
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is a man of peace and Israel’s best negotiating partner, former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert said on Tuesday in New York.
“He is a man of peace. He is opposed to terror. He is the only partner that we can deal with,” Olmert said at a joint press conference with Abbas at a hotel.
They spoke after Abbas denounced the Trump administration’s “Deal of the Century” at a special meeting of the UN Security Council. At the UNSC meeting, Israel’s Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon said Abbas was a stumbling block to the peace process and the time had come for him to step aside.
Olmert, who negotiated with Abbas when he was in office, under the leadership of former US president George Bush, said that he knew from personal experience what an important ally Abbas was.
“It’s important for me as someone who negotiated with Abbas,” to make such a statement, Olmert said, noting that he had more meetings with the Palestinian leader than any other Israeli prime minister.
Olmert said he wanted to emphasize that he saw an opportunity for renewed dialogue in the Trump peace plan.
“The Trump plan repeats one basic principle which is the starting point for everything: a two-state solution,” said Olmert. This part of the plan must be pursued by both sides. “I hope that the Palestinian side and the [PA] president and his chief advisor Saeb Erekat will not ignore that there is a commitment for a two-state solution in the plan,” Olmert said.
“This is something that must be further pursued,” Olmert said, adding that he was confident that “these negotiations will take place, and the partner of Israel to these negotiations will be the president of the PA."
With regard to an Israeli negotiator, Olmert quipped in reference to the March 2 Israeli elections: “We will know [who that is] only later this year.”
Abbas told reporters the same message that he delivered at the UNSC: that he rejected the "Deal of the Century," which among other things does not offer the Palestinians a state at the pre-1967 lines.
The “so called Deal of the Century” denies international legality and destroys the possibility of a two-state solution, Abbas said.
“It can’t be the basis for negotiations; this is why it was rejected not just by us but by the international community,” he added.
Instead, he spoke positively of the plan he had negotiated with Olmert, under what is known as the Annapolis process. Olmert remains the only Israeli prime minister to meet the Palestinian demand that a two-state solution should be based on the pre-1967 lines. The talks stopped when Olmert stepped down in light of corruption charges against him, for which he was ultimately found guilty and served jail time.
“We made progress in our negotiations. I am fully ready to resume negotiations where we left it with you, Mr. Olmert, under the umbrella of the international Quartet” and not on the basis Trump’s plan, Abbas said.
He reiterated his commitment to peace through dialogue and his opposition to violence.
“We don’t want violence,” he added.
Both sides need to reach common ground to ensure peace for future generations, he said.
Israeli Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon responds to former prime minister Ehud Olmert's meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (Courtesy: Israel Mission to the UN)
Danon attacked Olmert for holding a press conference with Abbas.
"On the same day that Abu Mazen [Abbas] failed in his attempt to condemn the US and Israel in the Security Council here at the UN, Mr. Olmert is endorsing Abu Mazen. He is endorsing diplomatic terrorism against Israel – it is shameful,” Danon said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also lashed out at Olmert for holding the press conference with Abbas, calling it a “low point.”
“It’s a shame and a disgrace,” Netanyahu said, noting that it came in the aftermath of three years of work on his part to secure US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the West Bank settlements.
That a former “prime minister of Israel… goes to Abu Mazen to fight the [Trump] plan, it’s inconceivable. But it is conceivable because when he was prime minister, Olmert went to Abu Mazen and offered him sovereignty over the Western Wall and the Temple Mount,” Netanyahu said. 
Of course Abbas wants to go back to the Annapolis plan of 2008, Netanyahu said, because that puts the ’67 lines back on the table, now that they have been removed.
“I fought to prevent this [plan] based on the pre-67 lines,” Netanyahu said.