Abrams: Bush never agreed to take 100,000 refugees

Former National Security Council member refutes claim Olmert made in Geneva Initiative speech.

Ehud Olmert 311 (photo credit: Pool/Yediot Aharonot)
Ehud Olmert 311
(photo credit: Pool/Yediot Aharonot)
Former US president George W. Bush did not and could not have agreed to accept 100,000 Palestinian refugees as former prime minister Ehud Olmert claimed in a speech over the weekend, former Bush administration official Elliott Abrams told The Jerusalem Post on Monday.
Abrams, who was deputy national security adviser for global democracy strategy and held the Middle East portfolio on the National Security Council, said Bush administration officials did believe that if a peace deal was reached with the Palestinians, there would need to be actions by many countries to address the refugee issue, both financially and by offering to take some refugees.
But he said there was no commitment to take 100,000.
“President Bush did not, I am sure, promise or pledge to take 100,000 Palestinian refugees,” Abrams said.
“The president knew, as everyone in the White House knew, that no president has the power to make such a commitment. We have immigration laws and they don’t allow that kind of move by a president. He would have had to ask Congress to change our laws. Moreover, we would never have committed to a specific number anyway, nor did Olmert ask us to or raise that number.”
In a speech on Sunday 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 to the stewardship of five countries, and accepting thousands of Palestinian refugees into Israel on humanitarian grounds.
“The US would have been willing to accept 100,000 refugees,” Olmert said. “I believe that if the refugees, most of whom already are the second and third generation outside the territories, had had to choose between coming back to Israel or going to the United States, one might guess what they would choose.”
Olmert’s office responded to Abrams’s comments by saying that Abrams was unaware of commitments made by other Bush administration officials.
“Promises were indeed made on this issue by very senior Bush administration officials who were involved in the details of the negotiations with the Palestinians,” an official in Olmert’s office said.
Hilary Leila Krieger contributed to this report.