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Former Israeli premier details failed Palestinian peace offer

TEL AVIV, Israel — Israel's former premier gave his most detailed description yet of his 2008 peace offer to the Palestinians, saying in a lecture Sunday that if the current talks are to succeed, the agreement would have to resemble the plan the Palestinians turned down two years ago.

The Palestinians deemed Ehud Olmert's offer insufficient at the time, but wanted the more hawkish premier who replaced him, Benjamin Netanyahu, to use it as a starting point for negotiations. Instead, Netanyahu has taken it off the table.

Olmert's statements in Tel Aviv were part of a rare political speech for the former prime minister, who resigned last year under a wave of corruption charges.

In his September 2008 plan, Olmert said he proposed a Palestinian state on more than 90 percent of the West Bank, with land swaps to make up for any land Israel annexed. In past interviews, he has said the Palestinians were offered close to 94 percent of the territory.

The West Bank and Gaza were to be linked through Israeli territory, and the Palestinians were to have a capital in the Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem. Jerusalem's coveted Old City, with its holy sites, one of the most intractable issues dividing the sides, was to be governed jointly by Israel, the Palestinians, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United States, he said.

Under Olmert's offer, Israel would have recognized the suffering of Palestinian refugees who lost their homes in the fighting around Israel's creation in 1948 and would have agreed to repatriate a small number — fewer than 20,000 — for humanitarian reasons. The Bush administration agreed to take in 100,000 more as U.S. citizens in the framework of a peace deal, he said.

Olmert said his offer could still be a blueprint for a peace accord. "We are really on the brink on this point, at least to the extent that I know the opinions of the Palestinian leadership," Olmert said.

If Netanyahu succeeds in reaching an agreement with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Olmert said he believes "you've heard its main details this evening."

The circumstances of the failure of Olmert's peace talks with the Palestinians remain in dispute.

Olmert said he made his offer on Sept. 13, 2008, including detailed maps showing the Palestinian state, a land link between Gaza and the West Bank, and precise arrangements in Jerusalem, including roads, tunnels and bridges to enable the sharing of the city.

In May 2009, Abbas told the Washington Post that he couldn't accept Olmert's offer because "the gaps were wide."

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said talks were ongoing when Israel invaded Gaza at the end of 2008. The invasion, launched to stop rocket fire by Gaza militants, halted the negotiations, and Olmert's party lost power not long afterward.

Foreign minister wants to eject Israeli Arabs

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman on Sunday called for redrawing the country's borders to exclude some Arab citizens, raising the explosive proposal just as new peace talks with the Palestinians struggle to get under way.

Lieberman also rejected the foundation on which years of negotiation with the Palestinians have been based: trading captured land for peace. The principle guiding peace talks "must not be land for peace, but an exchange of land and people," Lieberman told reporters before the weekly Cabinet meeting. Lieberman's Yisrael Beitenu party, or Israel is Our Home, posted strong gains during elections last year with a message that questioned the loyalty of Israel's Arab citizens, a minority that makes up 20 percent of Israel's 7.6 million people.

His proposal is to redraw the border and transfer them to Palestinian rule, while also incorporating residents of Jewish settlements in the West Bank into Israel's borders. No one would be uprooted from their homes. In a radio interview, Lieberman, who lives in a West Bank settlement, defended his proposal, saying Israeli Arab leaders do not recognize Israel's right to exist.

Associated Press

Former Israeli premier details failed Palestinian peace offer 09/19/10 [Last modified: Sunday, September 19, 2010 10:14pm]
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