Haaretz publishes map of Olmert's offer to Abu Mazen

Here is the graphic of the map, as Haaretz reconstructed it, of the “unprecedented” offer made during direct contacts in 2008 between Israel’s then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, and the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen ):

Olmert peace plan presented to Abu Mazen as reconstructed by Haaretz - 17 Dec 09

The accompanying article, published in Haaretz today, was written by Aluf Benn, who reported that “Former prime minister Ehud Olmert proposed giving the Palestinians land from communities bordering the Gaza Strip and from the Judean Desert nature reserve in exchange for Jewish settlement blocs in the West Bank.   According to the map proposed by Olmert, which is being made public here for the first time, the future border between Israel and the Gaza Strip would be adjacent to kibbutzim and moshavim such as Be’eri, Kissufim and Nir Oz, whose fields would be given to the Palestinians. Olmert also proposed giving land to a future Palestinian state in the Beit She’an Valley near Kibbutz Tirat Tzvi; in the Judean Hills near Nataf and Mevo Betar; and in the area of Lachish and of the Yatir Forest. Together, the areas would have involved the transfer of 327 square kilometers of territory from within the Green Line.  Olmert presented his map to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in September of last year. Abbas did not respond, and negotiations ended. In an interview with Haaretz on Tuesday, Abbas said Olmert had presented several drafts of his map. The version being disclosed Thursday in Haaretz is based on sources who received detailed information about Olmert’s proposals. Olmert wanted to annex 6.3 percent of the West Bank to Israel, areas that are home to 75 percent of the Jewish population of the territories … Olmert proposed the transfer of territory to the Palestinians equivalent to 5.8 percent of the area of the West Bank as well as a safe-passage route from Hebron to the Gaza Strip via a highway that would remain part of the sovereign territory of Israel but where there would be no Israeli presence.  Olmert gave Col. (res.) Danny Tirza, who had been the primary official involved in planning the route of the security fence, the task of developing the map that would provide the permanent border between Israel and the Palestinian state. Olmert’s proposed annexation to Israel of settlement blocs corresponds in large part to the route of the security fence. In his proposal for a territory swap, Olmert rejected suggestions previously raised involving the transfer to the Palestinians of the eastern Lachish hills, deciding instead to establish communities there for evacuees from the Gaza Strip. He also showed a preference for giving the Palestinians agricultural land over the transfer of the Halutza sands near the Egyptian border. The implementation of the Olmert plan would require the evacuation of tens of thousands of settlers and the removal of hallmarks of the West Bank settlement enterprise such as Ofra, Beit El, Elon Moreh and Kiryat Arba, as well as the Jewish community in Hebron itself.   Olmert reached a verbal understanding with the Bush administration to the effect that Israel would receive American financial aid to develop the Negev and Galilee to absorb some of those settlers evacuated from the West Bank. Other evacuees would have been resettled in new apartments to be built in the settlement blocs that Israel would annex. Olmert’s office said in response to the disclosure of the plan: ‘On September 16, 2008, [Olmert] presented Palestinian Authority President Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas] a map that had been prepared based upon dozens of conversations that the two held in the course of the intensive negotiations after the Annapolis summit. The map that was presented was designed to solve the problem of the borders between Israel and the future Palestinian state. Giving Abu Mazen the map was conditioned upon signing a comprehensive and final agreement with the Palestinians so it would not be used as an ‘opening position’ in future negotiations the Palestinians sought to conduct. Ultimately, when Abu Mazen did not give his consent to a final and complete agreement, the map was not given to him’.  Olmert’s office also told Haaretz that ‘naturally for reasons of national responsibility, we cannot relate to the content of that map and the details of the proposal. At the same time, it should be stressed that in the details contained in your question, there are a not inconsiderable number of inaccuracies that are not consistent with the map that was ultimately presented’.”   This article is posted on the Haaretz website here.

This is fascinating. The leaks are coming fast and furious. This is positioning, or pre-positioning, in advance of some bigger move.

Now, Haaretz, we would like to see a close-up map of the Olmert proposals concerning the Jerusalem area, please…

If this map is correct, Olmert was not proposing any swaps in the Jerusalem area — but sources, and other published reports, indicated that Olmert had put on the table something about Jerusalem areas with large Palestinian populations being turned over to the PA…

According to this map, the entire Greater Jerusalem Municipal area plus something around Dahiet al-Bariid (Jerusalem side) and Neve Yaakov, as well as the E-1 envelope and all of Maale Adumim — a huge amount of territory — would be “annexed to Israel”.

Also, the map does not show any Israeli ambitions in the Jordan valley, in the Israeli settlements around Jericho, or along a large part of the Dead Sea coastline, something that also seems to fly in the face of known facts [though the U.S. has apparently consistently opposed Israeli annexation — or anything like it — of the Jordan valley] …  As Ma’an News Agency reported on Friday evening, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad told the Climate Conference in Copenhagen that ““Today, 9000 Israeli settlers living in the Jordan Valley consume approximately one quarter of the total amount of water made available to all 2.5 million Palestinians living in the West Bank.”   There are now more Israeli settlers living in the Jordan Valley than were living in Gaza at the time of former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s unilateral “Disengagement” of Israeli settlers and the soldiers protecting them in 2005.

One of the many comments posted on this article and map, on the Haaretz website (written by Johnboy in Sydney) notes the following:
…look at some of the other nonsense going on nearer the Green Line:
1) Qalqilyah is sandwiched between Tzofim and Alfei Menashe; Abbas would have no choice but to tell the Israelis that they can`t have both.
2) The twin roads leading back from Ariel through Elkana and Beit Aryeh entrap a triangle of Palestinian territory; Abbas can`t possibly accept that.
3) What on earth is that road heading south of Beit Aryeh doing/going?
4) The Latrun salient is all Israeli; is that counted in the “5%” that Israel is annexing from the Pals, or is it excluded from the calculations?
5) There is a little cut-off triangle of land betweem Givat Ze`ev and Nataf; were we supposed to miss that fact?”

Israel authorizes settlement increase — before agreeing to temporary freeze?

Eight months after Barack Obama was sworn into office last January (and made his first phone call to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas — urging him to resume negotiations that Palestinians cut off when Israel launched a massive military assault on Gaza on 27 December), the Israeli government has thrown down the gauntlet and defied the Obama Administration’s cautionary advice against continued settlement activity.

In a direct challenge to American efforts to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, the Israeli Defense Minister — who apparently rules the occupied West Bank — has just authorized construction of some 455 new Jewish homes there.

There are Israeli suggestions that this will be followed later this week by a U.S-Israeli agreement on a temporary settlement freeze.

But would the current United States administration, led by Barack Obama, really be so willing to go along with this?

Today is the Labor Day holiday that marks the end of summer in the USA. Obama is making a big speech, and is embroiled in a controversy about health care. George Mitchell is due in the region later this week. So, the reaction appears to be muted, at least for the moment.

But, the Israeli move on settlements shows that U.S. diplomacy is not overwhelmingly effective at the moment.

Continue reading Israel authorizes settlement increase — before agreeing to temporary freeze?

Rice – does she know what she's doing?

Here below is the U.S. State Department transcript of U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice’s remarks to journalists travelling with her from Israel to London, where she was due to meet Jordan’s King Abdallah II.

Major questions that come immediately to mind:

(1) Since when is this the beginning of the process?

(2) What exactly does she mean when she says that phase one roadmap obligations must be carried out now, IN ADVANCE of any meeting?

(3) Does she really believe the explanation given to her by Israeli officials about the land from four Palestinian villages that is being confiscated between East Jerusalem and the huge Maale Adumim settlement in the West Bank to build a bypass road for Palestinian use — that this is being done from a good motive, that is, to help increase Palestinian mobility?

(4) Why has she so completely swallowed the Israeli position that the document the Israeli and Palestinians are supposed to be negotiating will only be a statement of intent — and will not be specific on the issues?

(5) Why has she backed off from her firmness about it now being the time to move toward a Palestinian state? And why is she saying so many “ifs” – as in, “If Israel is going to be asked to withdraw from the West Bank at some point in time” … “If a Palestinian state is ever going to come into being”?
Continue reading Rice – does she know what she's doing?

Rice visits Jesus' birthplace – Bethlehem

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice visited the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem this morning — reputed to be the birthplace of Jesus.

The visit was described as “a break from peacemaking” — but she must have whispered a prayer or two, to help her efforts to bring Israeli and Palestinian negotiators closer to agreement.

It was later reported that Rice lit a candle in the Church of the Nativity.

Reuters added, “The smell of incense wafted through the air of the hushed church as Rice visited the grotto revered as the birthplace of Jesus”.

Rice told journalists, according to a State Department transcript, that “being here at the birthplace of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ has been a very special and moving experience. I was saying earlier that I think I could spell Bethlehem before I could spell my name because it was so often in the stories that children follow to learn about the life of Jesus Christ, and it all started here in Bethlehem. It is also, I think, personally for me a reminder that the Prince of Peace is still with us and still with me and with all of us, but that also these great monotheistic religions that have inhabited this land together have an opportunity to overcome differences, to put aside grievances, to make the power of religion a power of healing and a power of reconciliation rather than a power of division. And that is what these great holy sites remind us of is that the three great religions indeed share a common vision of peace and a common vision of our humanity. And that is what I ultimately take away from this trip“.

It was reported that Rice also exchanged words with Palestinian residents of Bethlehem, but details on that are still coming in.

Reuters observed that the route was apparently not lined with cheering spectators: “Residents of Bethlehem, in the West Bank just outside Jerusalem, looked on with seeming indifference as Rice’s motorcade swept into the city with sirens blaring … Unemployment in the town is estimated at about 65 percent. More than 3,000 Christians, about 10 percent of the community in Bethlehem, have left the city since 2000, according to United Nations statistics”.

Rice also had to pass, again, through The Wall. Reuters drily recorded that: ” ‘Peace Be With You’, read an Israeli Tourism Ministry sign on a high concrete wall section of the West Bank fence Israel has constructed near the entrance to the city of Jesus’s birth”. The Reuters report on Rice’s visit to Bethlehem is published in Haaretz here.

That enormous and grotesque sign is nearly the full height of The Wall, at least 25 feet high, at that place, and is painted in bright colors in three languages – Arabic, Hebrew, and English.

entrance to Bethlehem  - photo by Rev. Julie Roweh

(Photo by Rev. Julie Rowe, a Lutheran Minister who lives and works in Jerusalem)

Continue reading Rice visits Jesus' birthplace – Bethlehem

Rice is up against The Wall – it's crunch time in Palestine

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice was still looking polished, well-groomed, nice and disciplined yesterday and today in Jerusalem — but it’s now crunch time in Palestine.

A story by the Associated Press says that after Rice’s meeting with Israeli officials on Sunday — over two hours with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, then another meeting with Defense Minister (and former Prime Minister, as well as one of the richest men in Israel) Ehud Barak, who was leaving for his own trip to Washington immediately afterwards — a “U.S. State Department official” indicated to journalists that the American-proposed Middle East Peace Conference (or, now downplayed, “meeting”), that was supposed to take place in November, might be postponed “because of gaps between the sides”.

The AP is reporting that: ” ‘This is going to take some time’, the official told reporters on condition of anonymity to describe the private conversations. ‘This is going to require a lot of hands-on American diplomacy. These are really tough issues’.”

The issues are tough, but not as tough as the Israelis.

The AP says that Barak, after meeting Rice, “later issued a statement saying the [Israeli] military’s freedom of movement in the West Bank was a ‘fundamental principle that must be demanded in the future as well’.” The AP noted drily that these comments “came despite long-standing Palestinian demands for a reduced Israeli presence in the West Bank”.

On Monday, Rice went to Ramallah to meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. AP reports that there was a “security scare”: “Her trip was briefly delayed by what turned out to be a false security alert. Her convoy stopped at an Israeli fire station after Israeli police said they spotted a suspicious vehicle near a crossing point into the West Bank. The convoy moved on after 15 minutes”. The AP report on Rice’s last two days in the Mideast is here.

This “false security alert” could have been just a good bit of theatre — setting the scene, and atmospherics.

I wonder if Dr. Rice has ever seen The Wall — up close and personal? It would be nice if she decided to take a little tour while here … Seeing it in person is like getting hit, hard, in the solar plexus. It generally has a quite transformational impact.
Continue reading Rice is up against The Wall – it's crunch time in Palestine

Rice is in Jerusalem to check on Israeli-Palestinian negotiations

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice arrived in Jerusalem Sunday after being profoundly shocked in Moscow by Russian President Putin’s anger. Will she be profoundly shocked here?

En route to Moscow three days ago, Rice was asked by journalists about her reaction to the revelation that the Israeli military had confiscated land from four Palestinian villages in order to construct a Palestinian bypass road around the enormous Israeli settlement of Ma’ale Adumim, located in the West Bank, west of Jerusalem:

“QUESTION: Israel announced this week the confiscation of Palestinian land between Jerusalem and Ma’ale Adumim in West Bank, which appears to be a fait accompli before your arrival. What are you going to do about that?

“SECRETARY RICE: Well, I called the Ambassador to — their Ambassador to the United States yesterday and asked for a clarification. I’m awaiting one …”

UPDATE: Rice told journalists en route to Tel Aviv this morning that she did get some official Israeli clarification. Here is her exchange with journalists on the topic, according to a transcript later released by the U.S. State Department:

“QUESTION: Madame Secretary, did you get an answer from the Israelis about this confiscation of Palestinian land?

SECRETARY RICE: I did. What I’ll do is I’d prefer to have the Israelis say precisely what they — their clarification. But let me put it this way: it was a clarification concerning the timing of such a — the actual timing that anything would happen, saying that it was not imminent and also that it was to improve Palestinian mobility. We’ll continue to have discussions about this. But the point that I’ll be making is we have to be very careful as we’re trying to move toward the establishment of a Palestinian state by actions and statement that erode confidence in the parties’ commitment to a two-state solution”.

In her meeting with journalists on board her plane, Rice also said: “I think the goal now is to paint as concrete a picture as possible of the — of a Palestinian state, to demonstrate that the international community, the region and most importantly the parties themselves believe that one can indeed be established, and then to invite all who have any — who have the interests of the Palestinian people at heart to join that consensus“.
Continue reading Rice is in Jerusalem to check on Israeli-Palestinian negotiations

Rice to return to Jerusalem and Ramallah next week

After yesterday’s meeting in Jerusalem between Israeli Prime Minister Olmert and Palestinian President Abbas, Israel’s Kol Israel Radio is reporting that the session had just been a “starting point”.

Kol Israel also said that the expected Middle East Peace Conference will probably only bring the two sides back to where they were before the outbreak of the Second Intifada at the end of September 2000 — what does that mean? Does that mean that the proposals that Israel’s then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak (now Defense Minister and Labor Party leader) put on the table in the failed Camp David peace talks in late July 2000? Does that mean that the IDF will have to withdraw from cities in the West Bank, and pull back to its prior positions?

Now, media reports say, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice is expected to return to the region to prepare for her Middle East Peace Conference that may be held by Thanksgiving or by Christmas in Annapolis. Policy pundits have been urging her greater involvement prior to that meeting, though she has been clear that she will not get involved in negotiating.

And, Haaretz is reporting today that “Five former U.S. State Department and Pentagon officials are proposing Israeli and Palestinian capitals in Jerusalem and preventing Palestinian refugees from returning to Israel as part of a Middle East accord. In a six-page policy statement submitted to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, they also suggested a series of peace conferences following the one she hopes to convene next month, probably in Annapolis, Maryland, near Washington”.

According to the Haaretz story, these former officials are Robert Pelletreau, a former U.S. ambassador to Egypt and ex-assistant secretary of state for the region; Edward S. Walker, a former ambassador to Israel and Egypt; Thomas Pickering, an ex-undersecretary of state and ambassador to Israel and Jordan; Samuel Lewis, former ambassador to Israel; and Frederic C. Hof, Mideast official in the Pentagon.

Haaretz says that the report was written and coordinated primarily by Steven L. Spiegel, political science professor at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Diplomacy sometimes is all about splitting hairs. But diplomats very often have no profound understanding of whose toes they are stepping on in this process — and what happens afterwards is not so predictable.

In any case, these guys apparently think they have come up with a winning formula by proposing something Israel will like (ruling out any Palestinian refugee return to Israel proper), alongside something the Palestinians might like (dividing Jerusalem — but the Palestinians want the entire Old City, except maybe the Jewish Quarter, according to the Green Line that existed between Israeli forces and Jordanian forces prior to the June 1967 War).
Continue reading Rice to return to Jerusalem and Ramallah next week

Middle East Peace Conference by Thanksgiving? Christmas?

The Israeli press is reporting that today’s meeting in Jerusalem between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas marked the beginning of the negotiating process, because — after yet another closed-door one-on-one session — the two brought in their respective negotiations teams. The negotiating teams are due to start meeting next week.

However, the Israeli press also states, the negotiations won’t really start until after the Middle East Peace Conference that the U.S. wants to host in Annapolis, Maryland, in November. (It was originally suggested that the Peace Conference would be in September, perhaps around the time of the UN General Assembly’s annual high-level general debate).

On top of that, the Middle East Peace Conference might now be postponed a couple of weeks more, to allow more time for the Israelis and the rather un-technical Palestinian negotiators to spend together. The Jerusalem Post, for example, reported Wednesday evening that: “Sources in Washington said Wednesday that the international peace parley, scheduled for mid-November, might be postponed by two weeks or a whole month, to allow the sides to reach agreement, Army Radio reported.”
The JPost report that Washington is willing to postpone, again, the MidEast peace conference.

In another report, the Jerusalem Post’s Khaled Abu Toameh wrote that Abbas told reporters yesterday iafter meeting Jordan’s King Abdullah II in Amman that: “We’re negotiating with Israel, and after that there will be an agreement, which we will carry to the international conference to be blessed, adopted and endorsed, and then detailed negotiations shall begin…He said at least 12 Arab countries had agreed to send representatives to the conference. ‘There will be a very strong Arab presence at the conference’, Abbas said after holding talks with Jordan’s King Abdullah. ‘In addition, there will be some Islamic countries like Malaysia, Turkey and Indonesia’.”
The JPost report of Abbas’ remarks on the Middle East Peace Conference in Amman yesterday are here.

Continue reading Middle East Peace Conference by Thanksgiving? Christmas?