Jackson Diehl drops a bombshell on the Israeli-Palestinian issue today at the Washington Post. According to Abbas himself, Ehud Olmert offered a new Palestinian state on 97% of the West Bank as well as an unprecedent agreement to a limited “right of return” for Palestinians who fled Israel more than 60 years ago. Abbas turned it down as insufficient — and figures he can bargain for more with Barack Obama in office:
It’s true, of course, that if Obama is to broker a Middle East settlement he will have to overcome the recalcitrance of Netanyahu and his Likud party, which has not yet reconciled itself to the idea that Israel will have to give up most of the West Bank and evacuate tens of thousands of settlers. But Palestinians remain a long way from swallowing reality as well. Setting aside Hamas and its insistence that Israel must be liquidated, Abbas — usually described as the most moderate of Palestinian leaders — last year helped doom Netanyahu’s predecessor, Ehud Olmert, by rejecting a generous outline for Palestinian statehood.
In our meeting Wednesday, Abbas acknowledged that Olmert had shown him a map proposing a Palestinian state on 97 percent of the West Bank — though he complained that the Israeli leader refused to give him a copy of the plan. He confirmed that Olmert “accepted the principle” of the “right of return” of Palestinian refugees — something no previous Israeli prime minister had done — and offered to resettle thousands in Israel. In all, Olmert’s peace offer was more generous to the Palestinians than either that of Bush or Bill Clinton; it’s almost impossible to imagine Obama, or any Israeli government, going further.
Abbas turned it down. “The gaps were wide,” he said.
The offer to honor a right of return would probably have driven Olmert from office, once it became public. Israelis used to defending themselves against Palestinian bombers in pizzarias and shopping centers would certainly object to bringing thousands of them into Israel itself. Had Abbas accepted the offer and recognized Israel, the new state status of the West Bank would have made his enemies hopping mad, but could have greatly enhanced his stature among ordinary Palestinians.
But Abbas chose to follow the example of his mentor, Yasser Arafat, who refused to take ‘yes’ for an answer at Wye River. Given about the same percentage of both the West Bank and Gaza Strip for an independent Palestinian state, Arafat chose intifada instead. Despite the offers from Israel, Palestinians keep dismissing them as insufficient.
That makes it pretty clear that the Palestinians aren’t interested in a two-state solution, nor a rational agreement on the return of refugees. They want the destruction of the state of Israel. What’s more, Abbas — supposedly a moderate — thinks he can get that by outwaiting Benjamin Netanyahu and that Obama will help him squeeze Bibi out of power. And he may not be wrong, either.