EXCLUSIVE: Olmert reveals Abbas accepted Jewish mayor of Palestinian capital

In interview previewing April 6 Jerusalem Post Conference in NY, former PM gives insight into peace talks with the Palestinians.

Former prime minister Ehud Olmert (photo credit: ELI MANDELBAUM)
Former prime minister Ehud Olmert
(photo credit: ELI MANDELBAUM)
Video by Eli Mandelbaum
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas agreed to a Jewish Israeli serving as mayor of an umbrella municipality for Jerusalem that would govern the capitals of Israel and a Palestinian state, former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday.
Abbas received applause from a visiting group of leftwing Israeli students in Ramallah last week when he said that Jerusalem could be two open cities coexisting under one municipal umbrella.
Olmert reveled that when Abbas made such a commitment to him in their negotiations that ended in September 2008, he also addressed who would head the joint municipality.
“Abu Mazen [Abbas] agreed that while Jerusalem would be separated into two capitals, there would be an umbrella mayor, and given the Jewish majority in the city, he is likely to be Israeli,” Olmert said.
Neither Olmert nor Abbas defined what role the umbrella municipality would have over the two capitals, whether it would have proper administrative functions or be largely symbolic.
In their negotiations, Olmert proposed that Jerusalem’s entire Old City would be internationalized under the control over five countries: Israel, the new Palestinian state, the United States, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. Asked whether Abbas accepted the offer, Olmert said, “ I think he liked the idea that three out of the five countries that would be part of the international trusteeship were Muslim.”
Olmert said some of the information about what went on in his talks with Abbas that has been leaked by the Palestinians has been untrue. For instance, he said it is not true that the Palestinians made him an offer of Israel keeping two percent of the land over the pre-1967 lines.
“Someone must have made up that number afterward,” Olmert said. “Maybe it was a negotiating point the Palestinians intended to raise when they came back to the table.
I’m giving you a fair, honest account of what happened.”
Olmert said he spoke to the Palestinians about Israel keeping 6.3% of the land over the pre-1967 Green Line, which would be compensated by land swaps from inside the line.
But he said Wednesday that “with much less than 6.3%” Israel could relocate some 90,000 settlers who would be evacuated from their communities into three demographic centers in the parts of Judea and Samaria that Israel would keep.
In Olmert’s plan, Israel would not have kept a security presence in the Jordan Valley. There would have been security measures that could be taken by Israel, the Palestinians, Jordan, and international forces, which might have been stationed on the Jordanian side of the border with the new Palestinian state.
On the issue of Palestinian refugees, Olmert said he offered to accept 1,000 a year for five years on a humanitarian basis, not on a Palestinian “right of return.” He said that Abbas expected more, but he never said how many more.
“Abu Mazen told me he does not want to change the demographics of Israel,” Olmert said.
“I think he was very forthcoming.
He was happy with territorial solution I proposed. When he says that had I stayed in office longer there might have been an agreement, he might be right. But he should have accepted my offer and changed the history of the world. Not coming with a positive answer was a terrible mistake.”
Olmert defended Abbas for refusing Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s demand for him to already recognize Israel as a Jewish state. He said such a request should only come at the end of the process, when he receives commitments from the Israeli side.
But Olmert issued rare praise for Netanyahu, saying that he had become noticeably less critical of American policies in public.
“He’s understood that it’s not in Israel’s interests to be in confrontation with America,” Olmert said. “It’s a more responsible approach. I respect the restraint he has imposed on ministers, preventing them from criticizing [US Secretary of State] John Kerry, who is a friend of Israel, who should be praised for his compassionate effort to bring peace.”
Olmert also praised Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman for adopting a pro-US stance, saying that he is “far less extreme than his image.” He slammed MKs in the Land of Israel caucus who criticized American policies in a private meeting Tuesday with American Ambassador Dan Shapiro and revealed its contents to the press.
“It is outrageous that MKs asked Shapiro what the US had done for Israel,” he said. “Imagine if there will be no deal and the Palestinians go to the UN.
Who will we come to if not the Americans to help us? After the amazing US commitment over the last few years, especially with the growing isolation of Israel, it’s totally unacceptable to jeopardize that good will and our good relations with the US.”
The full interview will be published in a magazine that will be distributed at The Jerusalem Post Conference in New York on April 6.