Olmert: I didn't accept right of return

Former PM contradicts Abbas's statements to the effect that he had agreed to resettle "thousands."

olmert abbas lovers 248 88 check caption (photo credit: GPO [file])
olmert abbas lovers 248 88 check caption
(photo credit: GPO [file])
Former prime minister Ehud Olmert, in an interview with Newsweek - his first interview since leaving office in March - denied Palestinian claims that he was willing to allow thousands of Palestinian refugees into Israel. According to an article on Olmert that appears in the magazine's current issue, Olmert said he rejected the Palestinian "right of return" and offered instead to allow into Israel a small number of returnees as a "humanitarian gesture," although he said this number was "smaller than the Palestinians wanted - a very, very limited number." Olmert's words seem to repudiate what Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas told Jackson Diehl of The Washington Post last month. In that interview, Diehl said that Abbas confirmed that Olmert had accepted the principle of the "right of return," and offered to resettle thousands of the refugees inside Israel. Abbas, during his Washington Post interview, said that Olmert had shown him a map proposing a Palestinian state on 97 percent of the land. In the Newsweek interview Olmert, for the first time, spelled out the percentages that he had offered: 93.5% to 93.7% of the West Bank along with a land swap of 5.8% and a safe-passage corridor from Gaza to the West Bank that would make up the rest. He said that the "holy basin" in Jerusalem would be under no sovereignty at all and administered by a consortium of Saudis, Jordanians, Israelis, Palestinians and Americans. Abbas rejected the offer, telling Diehl that "The gaps were wide." On Wednesday, the chief Palestinian negotiator said that Netanyahu must resume peace talks from the point where they ended under the Olmert government. Ahmed Qurei told reporters at his office that talks cannot "start from scratch."