PM Olmert
PM OlmertFile photo

Just two days after reports that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has offered 93% of Judea and Samaria for a Palestinian state, it is now reported that the same offer includes a proposal to accept 20,000 Arabs inside Israel.  The PA has turned it down.

The latest report means that Olmert has reneged on a principle on which Israeli consensus has stood fast for over six decades - namely, what the Arabs call the Right of Return. The Arabs demand that some five million Arabs who claim that they or their ancestors were displaced from Israel during the War of Independence (1948) and Six Day War (1967) be allowed to live in Israel.

Olmert has reportedly agreed to accept 20,000 of the Arabs over the next ten years.  However, his conditions stipulate that the process be called "family unification" on a "humanitarian basis," and that the Palestinian Authority drop its remaining "right of return" demands.  All other Arabs who wish to "return" must live in a future Palestinian state in Judea and Samaria, Olmert insists.

A response from the Prime Minister's Bureau later denied the entire report, saying that Olmert continues to insist that no refugees be allowed to enter Israel.

PA Chairman has rejected Olmert's package deal outright.  Without relating to the report of the offer to accept the 20,000 Arabs, PA spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh said that Israel's insistence on keeping 7% of Judea and Samaria is "unacceptable because it contradicts Palestinian, Arab and international resolutions."  He said that Israel must withdraw all of its "settlements" and enable the establishment of a Palestinian state based on the pre-1967 borders.

Livni: Against

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, leading the negotiations with the PA, is opposed to any Israeli concessions on the matter of the so-called Arab refugees. 

Arab countries have long demanded that Israel allow up to five million Arabs to move from foreign countries to within Israel's pre-1967 borders. Most media have adopted the Arab term "refugees" when referring to the approximately 600,000 Arabs who fled the country during the War of Independence in 1948.

Many, if not most, of them no longer are living, but the PA defines all of their descendants as "refugees" and claims they have the "right of return," similar to the right of all Jews throughout the world to move to Israel and become Israeli citizens.

Virtually all Israeli politicians, including left-wing leaders, have rejected the demand. However, by using the term "family reunification," Prime Minister Olmert may lead to a crack in the Israeli wall of resistance. 

Israeli Skepticism

An Israel official, insisting on anonymity, told Reuters that the entire plan, including the offer for almost all of Judea and Samaria while the status of Jerusalem remains undefined, was made by Olmert only in order to establish a legacy for himself before his political exit. "There will be no agreement, period," the official said.

Prime Minister Olmert's offer to Abbas is publicized a week before U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's next trip to the region. She has been pressing Israel and the PA to come up with an "agreement of principles" that can be announced before U.S. President Bush's term of office ends in January.