A tale of two peace offers

By Jamie

13 November 2011

In 2008, then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert made the Palestinians an offer so reasonable and enlightened it made Ehud Barak's "generous offer" at Camp David look like the Treaty of Versailles. Bending over backwards to reach a peace settlement, Olmert offered the Palestinians a state on virtually all of the occupied territories. Alas, stubborn as always, Palestinian negotiators turned him down.

Much like Barak's mythical "generous offer", this account of Olmert's proposal has been widely repeated, conforming as it does to convenient narratives that place the burden for the continuing conflict on the Palestinians, and demonstrating for all to see that, as Abba Eban famously put it, when it comes to peace, the Arabs "never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity".

What did Olmert really offer? Thanks to the Palestine Papers – leaked internal Palestinian documents related to the 'peace process' – we don't need to speculate. Palestinian officials kept detailed minutes of meetings with Israeli and American officials to serve as an internal record of where negotiations had got to. In 2008 Olmert made two offers to the Palestinians. In April he proposed that Israel annex 9.2% of the West Bank in exchange for Israeli territory equivalent of 5% of the West Bank. Then on 31 August he offered the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas a landswap in which Israel would annex 8.7% of the West Bank in exchange for Israeli territory equivalent of 5.5%. This second 'offer' was not a formal one: Olmert would not allow it to be presented to the broader negotiation teams. The maps he presented were reportedly "similar to the Wall".

Already it is difficult to see what the fuss is about. Annexing nearly ten percent of the West Bank along roughly the route of the Wall violates basic Palestinian legal rights and renders a viable and contiguous Palestinian state impossible. But it's worse than the mere percentages suggest. The fundamental problem is that Olmert continued to insist on annexing "all the major [settlement] 'blocs'", keeping 90% of Israeli settlers in place. This is an important point to understand. The settlements themselves – the actual built-up areas – take up almost no space. The problem is that Israel wants to annex, not settlements, but settlement blocs: large chunks of Palestinian territory that link settlements to each other and to Israel proper, dissecting the West Bank into de facto non-contiguous cantons, appropriating key water and agricultural resources, and cutting Palestinians off from East Jerusalem in the process (without East Jerusalem, the West Bank's economic hub, there can be no Palestinian state). Note that this was still Israel's negotiating position in November 2008, after the "secret offer" made by Olmert and recently "revealed" by Condoleeza Rice (a mere two years after it appeared in Ha'aretz) to sell her memoirs.

If Olmert's deal was a non-starter, did the Palestinians offer an alternative? Yes. The Palestinians came up with an official offer that both upheld their legal rights and made reasonable compromises to accommodate Israeli interests. Here's what it looked like:

(Black areas to be annexed to Israel; orange areas to the future Palestinian state)

Note that under this proposal over 60% of Israeli settlers would remain in situ, on just 1.9% of Palestinian territory, which would be exchanged for land of equal size and value inside Israel. As the International Court of Justice unanimously determined, the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and Gaza constitute occupied Palestinian territory, and all of Israel's settlements are illegal. And yet, this notwithstanding, Palestinian negotiators offered to allow over 60% of them to stay where they are. That's a breathtaking compromise, but one that nonetheless leaves a contiguous West Bank intact to serve as the basis for a viable Palestinian state.

Unlike Olmert's slight modification of Israel's standard rejectionist position, this Palestinian proposal received no media plaudits, and garnered no international praise. Indeed it hasn't even been reported. Also unlike Olmert's 'offer', it represents the basis for a genuine peace settlement. It embodies the overwhelming international political and legal consensus for resolving the conflict, making extraordinary compromises to accommodate Israel's interests while still providing for a contiguous, viable state on the whole of Palestinian territory.

What does a peaceful settlement to the Israel-Palestine conflict look like? It looks like this Palestinian map. It remains for us pressure Israel to accept it.


Note: A big hat-tip to Norman Finkelstein for digging up the Palestinian offer and map discussed here, and elaborating its significance. See his forthcoming pamphlet on how to solve to Israel-Palestine conflict, co-written with Mouin Rabbani, for further discussion. I interviewed Norman about these and other issues on Friday - keep an eye out for it on NLP over the coming week.

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2 Comments on "A tale of two peace offers"

By C. Bendavid, on 10 March 2012 - 02:36 |

You said:’’ The problem is that Israel wants to annex, not settlements, but settlement blocs: large chunks of Palestinian territory that link settlements to each other and to Israel proper, dissecting the West Bank into de facto non-contiguous cantons, appropriating key water and agricultural resources, and cutting Palestinians off from East Jerusalem in the process (without East Jerusalem, the West Bank’s economic hub, there can be no Palestinian state).’‘

You seem to ignore the offer made by Olmert on September 16, 2008. Olmert offered 93,7% of the West Bank to the Palestinians. In exchange, Israel was to compensate the Palestinians by giving them a territory equivalent to 5,8% of the West Bank. For the 0.5% remaining, the Palestinians were to be compensated with a safe-passage connecting the West Bank to the Gaza strip. This road would have remained under Israeli sovereignty (otherwise, Israel loses it’s territorial contiguity), but it would’ve been put under full Palestian control.

According to this offer, Jerusalem also would’ve been divided (including the Old city). http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/news/haaretz-exclusive-olmert-s-plan-for-peace-with-the-palestinians-1.1970

So there is no reason to say that the offer(s) made by Ehud Olmert would have dissected  the West Bank into ‘‘de facto non-contiguous cantons, appropriating key water and agricultural resources, and cutting Palestinians off from East Jerusalem in the process’‘.

In fact, none of these offers would  ’‘dissect’’ the West Bank into cantons.

Even the offer made by Barak in Camp David (which was in my opinion clearly not generous enough) did not ‘‘dissect’’ the West Bank. This myth was invented by some elements of the Palestinian authority and propagated by people like Deborah Sontag of the NY Times. 

As for East-Jerusalem, the reason it was not part of Olmert’s two initial offers, is because he wanted to discuss this issue separately from the rest of the West Bank, mainly because the Shas party threatened to leave the government if the status of Jerusalem was to be negociated (they used this pretext a few months later to prevent Livni to form a coalition government).

Still, Olmert  clearly hinted as soon as June of 2006, that Israel would have to relinquish parts of Jerusalem in order to reach a peace agreement.

Furthermore, Olmert gave an interview to Yediot Aharonot in the autumn of 2008, in which he clearly said Israel would sooner or later have to relinquish ALL the Occupied territories, and he boasted of being the first Israeli PM ever to say it clearly.

By the way, giving Israel the possibility to annex entire the settlement blocs and not just isolated settlements, was part of the framework accepted by both Israel and the Palestinians, to negociate a peace agreement in December of 2000 (the Clinton parameters). These parameters specified that Israel would be allowed to keep between 4% to 6% of the West Bank (with land swaps). Thus, it is legitimate for the Palestinians to try to limit the scope of the land swaps, but it is also legitimate for Israel to try to keep as much land as possible. 

Ultimately, the gap between Olmert and Abbas was not important. Abbas even said that he was on the brink of reaching an agreement with Olmert in 2008.  http://www.haaretz.com/news/abbas-olmert-offered-pa-land-equaling-100-of-west-bank-1.1747

Even the Beilin-Abu Mazen (unofficial) agreement of 1995, sets a similar framework. Unfortunately, the election of Netanyahu in 1996 (thanks to Hamas suicide bombings and Hezbollah’s rocket firing), burried this agreement.

So please, don’t say that the Peace Camp in Israel is not committed to peace.

The truth is that on both sides, the Peace Camp is committed to peace, but when moderates were in power (espicially during the 1990’s) they did not have the courage to take bold action to advance peace (Arafat refused to stop Hamas and the Israeli Labour party never had the courage to stop settlement activities). Let’s hope the next generation of moderates won’t repeat the same mistakes.

(Sorry for my poor English, it’s not my first first language)

By Joyce, on 08 February 2013 - 03:08 |

How does annexing 10% make it impossible? The counter offer early on from the PA gave them Ariel so they didn’t think it did. My guess is that the borders in 67 been what was offered they would now be saying anything less than that makes a state impossible. There are many many countries that are smaller. No the issue is the PA has stated what it needs any everyone sympathetic presents anything less as impossible. If life is truly so miserable who would say no to a state of 90 some percent and almost a hundred with swaps? This propaganda only entrenches the belief that they can never budge. If you look at prisoner trades 1,000 for 1 it’s clear it’s about winning, which doesn’t allow for compromise 

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