China View
March 26, 2009 - 12:00am

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert proposed to return 93 percent of the West Bank to the Palestinians and to handle the Jerusalem question under an international framework as his "final offer," local news service Ynet reported Thursday.

Olmert made the promises to Palestinian National Authority (PNA)Chairman Mahmoud Abbas during a meeting in September, said the report, quoting senior officials as saying that the pledges marked Olmert's "final offer to end the conflict."

"There was one point when I put things on the table and offered Abbas something that had never been offered and dealt with the crux of the problem, with the most sensitive issues that touch the most exposed nerves and historical obstacles," Olmert was quoted as telling a political conference held near Tel Aviv on Thursday.

In the offer, Israel would return 93 percent of the West Bank and evict over 60,000 settlers, while retaining large settlements in the Palestinian territories, according to the report, which added that the deal would also see the Jewish state cede control over some peripheral neighborhoods and refugee camps on the outskirts of Jerusalem.

As for the sovereignty of Jerusalem, which is regarded by Israel as its permanent and inalienable capital, and the east part of which is termed by Palestinians as the capital of their future state, Olmert proposed to tackle it under an international framework, revealed the report.

The plan was also presented to the United States, an influential player in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, and Olmert's office said that the staunch ally of Israel supported it, added the report.

"I told him (Abbas) 'let's sign.' It was half a year ago and I'm still waiting," said Olmert on Thursday, who is set to be replaced by hawkish Benjamin Netanyahu as early as next week.

Olmert and Abbas resumed the long-stalled peace talks at a U.S.-hosted international conference in Annapolis on Nov. 27, 2007, and pledged to reach a comprehensive peace deal in 2008.

Yet the ambitious goal proved to be out of reach as both sides were largely paralyzed, respectively by an internal feud between Abbas' Fatah in the West Bank and the Hamas movement in the Gaza Strip and by a political turmoil that forced scandal-enveloped Olmert to leave office and Israel to hold a general election.

Now that Netanyahu is set to present a new Israeli government dominated by right wingers, who traditionally hold hardline stances toward the peace process with the Palestinians, the peace prospect of the two neighbors seems increasingly blurry.

Although the premier-designate has recently repeated his readiness to advance the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, Netanyahu stopped short of committing himself to the two-state solution, which both the United States and the PNA are backing.

Meanwhile, his argument that Israel should first help develop the Palestinian economy before the two sides settle the core issues has also run into closed doors, triggering Palestinian criticism that he intends to obscure political issues with economic topics.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017