From the end of 2006 until the end of 2008, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert held 36 negotiating sessions with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in an effort to reach a peace agreement. Additional talks were being held at the same time between Israel’s Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Palestinian negotiator Ahmed Qurei.
Olmert presented a comprehensive plan for peace on September 16, 2008. The main elements of Olmert’s proposal were the following:
- Israel would cede almost 94% of the West Bank for the establishment of a Palestinian state.
- Israel would retain approximately 6.4% of the West Bank. “All the lands that before 1967 were buffer zones between the two populations would have been split in half. In return there would be a swap of land (to the Palestinians) from Israel as it existed before 1967.” According to Condoleezza Rice, “Olmert gave Abbas cause to believe that he was willing to reduce that number to 5.8 percent.”
- Sparsely populated settlements would be evacuated, but Gush Etzion, Ma’ale Adumim and Ariel would be annexed by Israel. In exchange, Israel offered to give up area around Afula-Tirat Tzvi, the Lachish region, an area near Har Adar, and areas in the Judean desert and around Gaza equaling 5.8% of Israeli territory.
- Maintain the contiguity of the Palestinian state and create a safe passage between the West Bank and Gaza. “It would have been a tunnel fully controlled by the Palestinians but not under Palestinian sovereignty, otherwise it would have cut the state of Israel in two.”
- Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem would be under Jewish sovereignty, Arab neighborhoods would be under Palestinian sovereignty, so it could be the capital of a Palestinian state.
- No one would have sovereignty in the holy basin in Jerusalem containing sites holy to Jews, Muslims and Christians, including the Mount of Olives, the City of David and part of the Arab neighborhood of Silwan. This area “would be jointly administered by five nations, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the Palestinian state, Israel and the United States.”
- No “right of return” for Palestinian refugees. Israel would agree on a humanitarian basis to accept 1,000 refugees every year for five years “on the basis that this would be the end of conflict and the end of claims.” An effort would also be made to establish an international fund to “compensate Palestinians for their suffering.” The agreement would also include recognition of the suffering of Jews from Arab countries who were forced out of their homes after 1948.
- Palestine would have a strong police force, “everything needed for law enforcement.” It would have no army or air force.
- The Palestinian border with Jordan would be patrolled by international forces – possibly from NATO. The Palestinians would not allow any foreign army to enter Palestine, and its government would not be permitted to enter into any military agreement with a country that does not recognize Israel.
- Israel would retain the right to defend itself beyond the borders of a Palestinian state and to pursue terrorists across the border.
- Israel would be allowed access to airspace over Palestine, and the Israel Defense Forces would have rights to disproportionate use of the telecommunications spectrum.
“My idea was that, before presenting it to our own peoples, we first would go to the UN Security Council and get a unanimous vote for support,” Olmert told Bernard Avishai. “Then we would ask the General Assembly to support us, and you can imagine that if we both would ask, only Iran or Syria might say no. Then we would go to a joint session of Congress, then to the European Parliament, then a big ceremony on the White House lawn with 25,000 people, with all the leaders of the region where we would initial it.”
Olmert showed Abbas a map which he considered a final offer, not a basis for future negotiations. He told Abbas, “‘This is the offer. Sign it and we can immediately get support from America, from Europe, from all over the world.’ I told him he’d never get anything like this again from an Israeli leader for 50 years. I said to him, ‘do you want to keep floating forever – like an astronaut in space – or do you want a state?’”
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called Olmert’s offer “amazing” and warned that “Yitzhak Rabin had been killed for offering far less.”
Abbas rejected the deal.
Ehud Olmert wrote later in a Washington Post op-ed: “To this day, I cannot understand why the Palestinian leadership did not accept the far-reaching and unprecedented proposal I offered them… It would be worth exploring the reasons that the Palestinians rejected my offer and preferred, instead, to drag their feet, avoiding real decisions.”
Sources: Ehud Olmert, “Stop Focusing on the Settlements to Achieve Peace in the Middle East,” Washington Post, (July 17, 2009);
Greg Sheridan, “Ehud Olmert still dreams of peace,” The Australian, (November 28, 2009);
Bernard Avishai, “A Plan for Peace That Still Could Be,” New York Times Magazine, (February 7, 2011);
Condoleezza Rice, “Condoleezza Rice Memoir: Peace-Process Anguish,” Newsweek, (October 23, 2011);
Avi Isacharoff, “Revealed: Olmert's 2008 peace offer to Palestinians,” Jerusalem Post, (May 24, 2013);
“Abbas says he rejected Olmert peace offer in 2008 over unseen map,” i24NEWS, (November 19, 2015);
Benny Begin, “Why Abbas Rejects Trump's Deal (And Any Other Deal With Israel),” Haaretz, (March 6, 2020).