Former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s new memoir sheds some light on the groundbreaking offer made by former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas in 2008.
The memoir, entitled "No Higher Honor," will be published on November 1, and Newsweek magazine presented some excerpts from it this week.
Rice writes in the book that both she and President George W. Bush were “impressed by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s desire to get a deal” and that then Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, whom Olmert placed in charge of the negotiations, “admitted that she didn’t know the issues as well but she came up to speed very quickly.”
Rice recalls one trip to Jerusalem, in May of 2008, when Olmert asked to have dinner with her. During that dinner, she says, Olmert told her that “‘Israel needs to get an agreement with the Palestinians before you leave office. I want to do it directly with Abu Mazen,’ he said, referring to Mahmoud Abbas by his nom de guerre. ‘You are going to see him tomorrow. Tell him that I want to appoint one person. I have someone in mind. He is a retired judge that I trust. I want Abu Mazen to appoint a trusted agent too. We can write down the agreement in a few pages and then give it to the negotiators to finalize,’ he said.”
It was during that same conversation, Rice says, that Olmert told her the details of his groundbreaking proposal.
“‘I know what he needs. He needs something on refugees and on Jerusalem. I’ll give him enough land, maybe something like 94 percent with swaps. I have an idea about Jerusalem. There will be two capitals, one for us in West Jerusalem and one for the Palestinians in East Jerusalem. The mayor of the joint city council will be selected by population percentage. That means an Israeli mayor, so the deputy should be a Palestinian. We will continue to provide security for the Holy sites because we can assure access to them.’"
"That’s probably a nonstarter, I thought," Rice writes. "But concentrate, concentrate. This is unbelievable. He continued, ‘I’ll accept some Palestinians into Israel, maybe five thousand. I don’t want it to be called family reunification because they have too many cousins; we won’t be able to control it. I’ve been thinking about how to administer the Old City. There should be a committee of people—not officials but wise people—from Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the Palestinians, the United States, and Israel. They will oversee the city but not in a political role.’”
“Am I really hearing this? I wondered,” Rice writes. “Is the Israeli prime minister saying that he’ll divide Jerusalem and put an international body in charge of the Holy sites? Concentrate. Write this down. No, don’t write it down. What if it leaks? It can’t leak; it’s just the two of us.”
“The next day I went to see Abbas and asked to see him in the little dining room adjacent to his office,” she continues. “I sketched out the details of Olmert’s proposal and told him how the prime minister wanted to proceed.”
The breakdown, Rice describes, came during a meeting between Olmert and Abbas in which the Prime Minister urged Abbas to sign an agreement then and there. Abbas said he wanted to consult his experts, but Olmert refused to give him the map with the proposed borders of a future Palestinian state.
“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.
She continues to say that she wanted to preserve Olmert’s offer and as such, asked Bush to host Olmert and Abbas one last time before he left office.
“I worried that there might never be another chance like this one,” Rice writes. “Tzipi Livni urged me (and, I believe, Abbas) not to enshrine the Olmert proposal. ‘He has no standing in Israel,’ she said. That was probably true, but to have an Israeli prime minister on record offering those remarkable elements and a Palestinian president accepting them would have pushed the peace process to a new level. Abbas refused.”
“We had one last chance,” she recalls. “The two leaders came separately in November and December to say good-bye. The President took Abbas into the Oval Office alone and appealed to him to reconsider. The Palestinian stood firm, and the idea died.”
“Now, as I write in 2011, the process seems to have gone backward,” Rice concludes.
Abbas himself admitted last January that he had reached agreements with Olmert that Jerusalem would not be divided. The two leaders agreed, he said, that Jerusalem would remain open to all religions and would have two municipalities operating side by side, one Jewish and one Arab.
Secret documents later revealed by the Al-Jazeera television network claimed that the PA made “historic concessions” during those negotiations, agreeing that Israel could keep most of east Jerusalem.
PA negotiators rejected these documents, calling them “a pack of lies and half-truths.”
In his address to the United Nations last month, current Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu reminded the audience of Olmert’s concessions to Abbas, saying Abbas “didn’t even respond.” He called on Abbas “to stop negotiating about the negotiations. Let’s just get on with it. Let’s negotiate peace!”