Abbas: We reached deal with Olmert on security

PA leader also tells left-wing politicians and activists that he wanted to keep negotiating during Cast Lead, but Israel refused.

Mitzna Abbas Ramallah 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Mitzna Abbas Ramallah 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
RAMALLAH – Israel and the Palestinians came closer to reaching an agreement when Ehud Olmert was prime minister than had previously been thought, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas revealed on Sunday.
He was speaking to a delegation of more than 60 left-wing politicians and activists at the Mukata compound in Ramallah that was organized by the Geneva Initiative.
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Abbas disclosed that he and Olmert had finalized an agreement on security issues, which was approved by the Bush administration, Olmert himself and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. The document remains in the possession of the US National Security Council, he said.
Olmert’s associates later confirmed that Israel and the US had reached such an agreement, but said they were surprised that the Palestinians were now saying they had accepted it, too.
On borders, Abbas said he had a difference of opinion with Olmert about whether a proposed land swap would comprise 6.5 percent of the West Bank territory as Olmert wanted, or 1.9%, which he had offered. Abbas claimed for the first time that he was willing to continue the talks despite the fact that Operation Cast Lead had begun, but the Olmert administration refused.
“The war began on December 22 [in 2008], but we still wanted to accept an American invitation to go to Washington to meet with the Israelis,” Abbas said. “[PA negotiator] Saeb Erekat called [Olmert’s diplomatic adviser Shalom] Turgeman and told him he was willing to go talks on January 2. Turgeman said he couldn’t go because there was a war. We said we should be protesting, not you.
We still wanted to go. He refused, and everything has been left as is since then. This is the real story about the negotiations between us and Olmert.”
Olmert’s associates denied Abbas’s version of events and said their last meeting was in September. They said Olmert made an offer to the Palestinians in the meeting and requested another meeting with them, but the Palestinians never got back to him.
Abbas said that during eight months of talks with Olmert, progress was made on borders, water and Jerusalem, and that he was sorry that the only issue finalized was security. He said he had agreed to an international presence in the newly created Palestinian state, which would be made up of American- led NATO or UNIFIL forces.
He complained that while he gave Olmert a map of his proposed final borders, Olmert showed him two maps but did not let him keep either of them. Abbas then complained about what had happened since Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and US President Barack Obama replaced Olmert and George W. Bush.
“Then our friend Obama came to office and asked the Israeli side to freeze all settlement activities, including [for] natural growth,” Abbas said. “We said this is our position and it is in the road map. After four or five months, Obama said he couldn’t convince the Israelis, so there would need to be something I had never heard of called proximity talks.”
Abbas explained how the proximity talks also did not work.
He said he only came to Washington for the launch of direct talks because US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had told him that she would succeed in persuading Netanyahu to extend the construction moratorium in the West Bank.
But Abbas said Netanyahu refused to extend the freeze in Washington and in subsequent talks in Sharm e-Sheikh and then at Netanyahu’s residence in Jerusalem, because he was afraid his coalition would collapse. Abbas did not address why he did not come to the negotiating table during the first nine months of the 10-month freeze.
“Two weeks ago the Americans told us that they failed to convince Netanyahu to do a freeze,” Abbas said. “They urged us to enter indirect negotiations again, and we told them we cannot do it unless there is a freeze. Now we’re waiting for the Americans, to see what they say and do. But in the end we want peace. Peace is more important than settlements.
We are ready to make peace and to find solutions on the core issues.”
The Israeli side at the Mukata was headed by former Labor chairman Amram Mitzna and included Kadima MKs Shlomo Molla and Orit Zuaretz, Labor MKs Daniel Ben-Simon and Ghaleb Majadle, and Meretz MKs Haim Oron, Nitzan Horowitz and Ilan Gilon.
Mitzna said he was not there as a representative of the government and that while he was critical of the current government’s handing of the peace process, this was not the place for him to be saying what Israel should be doing. It was in the interests of both sides to be talking to each other rather than convincing others that they are “the good guys,” he said.
“It seems to me that we’re closer than ever on the hardcore issues but we’re still far away from reaching an agreement,” Mitzna said.
“Most Israelis understand that we will have to go to approximately [the] 1967 borders, Jerusalem will be divided and the Palestinians will have a state. Most understand this even if they don’t support it. I believe that reaching an agreement is possible and that it is important to talk to the people, because governments will follow the people’s will.”
There was one Likud activist who spoke at the event. In his brief comments, Shlomo Madmon called for direct talks, but later said he would have done more to represent the Right had he been able to understand English, the language of all the other speakers at the event.
The only haredi participants who were not journalists were Shas attorney David Glass, who is close to party mentor Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, and former prime minister Ariel Sharon’s haredi affairs adviser Rivka Paluch.
The Israelis and Palestinians dined together in the Mukata.
Religious Israelis were given glatt kosher meals organized by the Geneva Initiative at Paluch’s request.