Musa Keilani
The Jordan Times (Opinion)
November 6, 2011 - 12:00am

Former US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice said last week that prospects for Israeli-Palestinian peace are far worse today than when she left office.
She partly blamed the focus given by the administration of President Barack Obama on Israel’s settlement construction in the occupied territories for the failure to revive Israeli-Palestinians peace negotiations. She is probably right, because Obama’s hardline position against settlement construction and his demand for a complete and absolute end to such Israeli activities in the occupied territories prompted Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas to adopt a similar position.

However, when Obama was forced to step down from that stand under unprecedented pressure from the pro-Israel US political establishment, Abbas could not stand down with him because of his political imperatives.

Abbas had hoped that Obama would not blink in a staring match with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but apply his power as president of the world’s superpower to prevail upon Israel, just as George Bush prevailed upon prime minister Yitzhak Shamir in the eighties. However, Obama’s inability to do so left Abbas in a lurch.

The Palestinian president, who was weakened by wrangling in the ranks of his Fateh group and the challenges put up by Hamas, was in no position to abandon his demand for a freeze in settlement construction, since it would have meant not only a loss of face but also of credibility among his Palestinian constituents. He maintains that position today, hoping that the outcome of the Palestinian bid for UN membership and the success in joining UNESCO, last week, would somehow scramble the equation and produce an atmosphere conducive to resuming peace negotiations.

It is difficult to agree with Rice that there were prospects for Israeli-Palestinian peace when she served as secretary of state. Unless, of course, she is talking about Israel imposing its will on the Palestinians and forcing them to accept an Israeli version of a peace agreement.

After all, it is clear that the US knows well that Israel will not accept anything less than what it wants and that the Palestinians will never gain their legitimate rights from Israel as long as the current geopolitical conditions are unchanged.

In the meantime, Abbas has to deal with the Israeli “punishment” of the Palestinians for joining UNESCO. These include speeding up construction in Jewish settlements and suspending transfer of taxes collected on goods going to the West Bank through Israeli ports.

Unless the international Quartet comes up with a feasible plan, there is little prospect of revived peace negotiations.

In the meantime, it is surprising to see the “revelations” in Rice’s book “No higher honour”.

She writes that in 2008, former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert offered Abbas compromises that no Israeli leader would ever make. These included an offer for a Palestinian state with holy sites under international control in a shared Jerusalem and a return of 94 per cent of the occupied West Bank. Obviously, the six per cent West Bank land that Olmert wanted to retain covered the Jewish settlements there.

If true, the proposal was indeed the best the Palestinians could ever expect. It is taken for granted that Israel would never agree to hand over Arab East Jerusalem to complete Palestinian control, and any peace agreement would have to involve shared control of the holy city. Jerusalem would become two capitals - West Jerusalem for Israel and East Jerusalem for the Palestinians - while the whole city will be governed as an international site by a committee of “wise people”, rather than officials, from Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the Palestinian Authority, the US and Israel. Similarly, it is also accepted that any deal over the West Bank would have to involve mutually agreed territorial exchange to accommodate the Jewish settlements. Olmert also agreed to allow some 5,000 Palestinian refugees to return to Israel. This could be problematic since there are more than four million Palestinian refugees living in the occupied West Bank, Gaza Strip and Arab countries in the region.

Rice says that this point was raised by Abbas in meetings with her and she arranged a meeting between Abbas and Olmert. According to Rice, Olmert even produced a map outlining the territory of a Palestinian state.

“All the other elements were still on the table, including the division of Jerusalem. Olmert had insisted that Abbas sign it, then and there,” Rice writes in her book.

“When the Palestinian had demurred, wanting to consult his experts before signing, Olmert refused to give him the map.”

Rice suggests that Olmert feared the details of his offer would be leaked prematurely.

“The Israeli leader told me that he and Abbas had agreed to convene their experts the next day. Apparently that meeting never took place,” writes Rice.

Except for the refugee issue, the offer was too good to be true. It is difficult, to say the least, to accept that Abbas did not follow up on it. It is also surprising how Olmert thought he would be able to sell it to his own people. It is possible that Rice could have been misled, but the details she has given leave no room for doubt.

It is now for Abbas to make his clarifications over the purported Olmert offer. He owes it to his people.


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