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Jul 19, 2009

Olmert admits he offered jerusalem to the PA. And where was Shas?

On Friday, Ehud Olmert, former PM of Israel, published an article in the Washington Post entitled, "How to Achieve a Lasting Peace: Stop Focusing on the Settlements".

In the article, very well written just as Olmert was a very good speaker, Olmert tells the Americans that they should stop focusing on the issue of settlement construction as the issue holding back peace.

Yet today, instead of a political process, the issue of settlement construction commands the agenda between the United States and Israel. This is a mistake that serves neither the process with the Palestinians nor relations between Israel and the Arab world. Moreover, it has the potential to greatly shake U.S.-Israeli relations.

The settlements are a known issue of contention between Israel and the United States; although America has not supported their construction, it has, on some occasions, recognized the realities that have developed over 40 years.

Sharon reached understandings with the U.S. administration regarding the growth and building of settlements, as part of the road map. The understandings included that:

-- No new settlements would be constructed.

-- No new land would be allocated or confiscated for settlement construction.

-- Any construction in the settlements would be within current building lines.

-- There would be no provision of economic incentives promoting settlement growth.

-- The unauthorized outposts built after March 2001 would be dismantled (a commitment that Israel, regrettably, has not yet fulfilled).

These understandings provided a working platform and, in my opinion, a proper balance to allow essential elements of stability and normality for Israelis living in settlements until their future would be determined in a permanent-status agreement. I adopted these understandings and followed them in close coordination with the Bush administration.

Moreover, during the run-up to Annapolis and in meetings there, I elaborated to the U.S. administration and the Palestinian leadership that Israel would continue to build in the settlements in accordance with the above criteria.

Let me be clear: Without those understandings, the Annapolis process would not have taken on any form. Therefore, the focus on settlement construction now is not useful.

The insistence now on a complete freeze on settlement construction -- impossible to completely enforce -- will not promote Palestinian efforts to enhance security measures; the institution building that is so crucial for the development of a Palestinian state; better movement and access to the Palestinians; nor an improved economy in the West Bank. Nor will it weaken the Hamas government in Gaza. It will not bring greater security to Israel, help improve Israel's relations with the Arab world, strengthen a coalition of moderate Arab states or shift the strategic balance in the Middle East.

The statement by him about discussing freezing settlements being the wrong focus right now stands as it is, and that is what the media are making a big deal about. I want to point out some other points he made in the article:

To this day, I cannot understand why the Palestinian leadership did not accept the far-reaching and unprecedented proposal I offered them. My proposal included a solution to all outstanding issues: territorial compromise, security arrangements, Jerusalem and refugees.

Olmert can't understand why they rejected his far-reaching and unprecedented proposal. Maybe because it was not enough? Maybe nothing will be enough? Maybe it was because of the settlement construction he is saying in this article is not the issue (that too is obviously not the issue, I am just saying maybe he read them wrong, considering he did not achieve the peace despite his unprecedented proposals).

My proposal included a solution to all outstanding issues: territorial compromise, security arrangements, Jerusalem and refugees.
Shas was the senior party member of Olmert's government. Shas said repeatedly that Jerusalem is not under discussion, and the moment it would be they would be out of the government. Is Olmert lying when he says he offered them Jerusalem or was Shas lying when they said Jerusalem was never put on the negotiating table (and they ensured us that they would know the moment it is, considering their status in the government coalition) - I would not put it past either of them, but I am more inclined to believe Olmert actually did offer Jerusalem to the PA.

The time to deal with such important matters is running out. We cannot waste what time we do have on non-priority issues.
Who says this is a non-priority issue? Just because Israel wants to say that does not mean the US or Palestinians have to consider it a non-priority issue.

The truth is the article, and the point he is trying to make, is a good one overall. the settlements should not be the big issue everyone is suddenly making it out to be. The Palestinians never before had a problem negotiating while settlement expansion (under natural growth understandings) was continuing. the US had its agreements with Israel about allowing it to continue at certain levels (which Obama says never happened). To suddenly make this the end-all issue is really just a distraction and an excuse.

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