Many people around the world are trying to understand why Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, refuses to sit down at the negotiating table at all.
People constantly ask me variations of this question: “If U.S. President Donald Trump’s plan calls for the creation of a Palestinian state; and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he supports the creation of such a state; and Arab leaders support the creation of such a state; why does President Abbas flat out refuse to negotiate for one, year after year after year?”
Abbas claims he is so offended by the Trump Plan – he calls it the “Slap of the Century” – that it is not even worth discussing.
“We say a thousand times: ‘No, no, no, to the Deal of the Century,'” he once intoned.
To be sure, the Trump plan is not nearly as generous to Palestinian demands as Abbas and his team want.
Yet Abbas also flatly rejected a far more generous plan for a Palestinian state that was made by then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in 2008.
What exactly was in the 2008 plan?
To get the answer, I asked Danny Ayalon, who served as Israelis ambassador to the United States from 2002 to 2006, and later as deputy foreign minister from 2009 for four years.
Ayalon currently serves on the Advisory Board of ALL ISRAEL NEWS.
Here are excerpts from part three of our interview.
ROSENBERG: I want to ask you about the last big offer that Israel made to the Palestinian leadership. It was back in 2008. The prime minister was Ehud Olmert. You had just finished your term as Israeli ambassador in Washington. You had been involved in advising a series of Israeli prime ministers and foreign ministers. So, could you take a moment and sketch out for our readers and viewers what was this dramatic offer? Many say it was the most generous that any Israeli prime minister had offered. What did Olmert actually offer Palestinian Chairman Mahmoud Abbas?
AYALON: Well, Joel, I would say the short answer is [that] Prime Minister Olmert offered everything that Mahmoud Abbas demanded. That means he really offered them 100 percent of his demands and really nothing to be gained by Israel. For instance, 100 percent of all the territory of the West Bank, [known in Israel as] Judea and Samaria. And wherever Israeli communities would stay – you don’t want to uproot them – they [the Palestinians] would be compensated by an equal amount of land from Israel proper.
ROSENBERG: It was known by the diplomats as “land swaps.” This community and that city [in Judea and Samaria would go to Israel], but over here they [Palestinians] would get additional land that is currently inside the ‘67 lines.
AYALON: Exactly. So here Israel gives up 100 percent of the amount of territory. I mean, it’s not just going halfway towards them. It’s going all the way towards them. Dividing Jerusalem, which is very, very hard. Dividing Jerusalem and giving the Palestinians their part of Jerusalem so they can decide what to do with it.
ROSENBERG: Let’s be clear. Olmert was offering the entire Muslim Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem. He was also offering, as I understand it – correct me if I’m wrong – the entire Christian Quarter of the Old City, as well as operational control of what Jewish people and Christians would call the Temple Mount, what Arab Muslims would call Haram Al-Sharif, the site of the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Do I have that right that each of those sections were going to be Palestinian?
AYALON: You have it absolutely right. Giving up the most sacred place on earth for Jews and Christians. Giving control of it to the Palestinians. Now, Muslims, as you know, they have their two most sacred cities, or holy cities, in Mecca and Medina. This is for the Sunnis and also Shiites. For Shiites, you [also] have Najaf and Qom in Iraq and Iran. Jerusalem is only number three in their list of holy cities. And you know what, Islam has never mixed political centers with spiritual centers. If you look at anywhere in the Arab and Muslim world, there is a total separation. For instance, Saudi Arabia, the political center, the capital is Riyadh – not Medina or Mecca. Same thing is with Qom and Najaf. And here in Jerusalem, it’s the only place that the Palestinians are changing for their own interests and making a holy place also a capital.
ROSENBERG: It’s interesting also that all of East Jerusalem – or most of East Jerusalem, that would include the Mount of Olives, the Garden of Gethsemane, many of the Christian holy sites that are important – would have been Palestinian. What was Mahmoud Abbas’ answer to this extraordinary offer by the Israeli government?
AYALON: Just as before – no, no, no. And he doesn’t have to say it. He doesn’t have to spell it. He just walked out and never returned an answer. And this was his answer – no answer is a “no” answer.
ROSENBERG: You are saying basically everything that was asked for that was legitimately theoretically possible by a center-left [Israeli] government, in this case Olmert – not by a center-right government – was offered and Mahmoud Abbas effectively said no even though he literally didn’t give an answer. It’s hard to understand. I think most people, most Christians around the world and others, don’t know all of this history. But it makes it difficult to understand what the Palestinian leadership really does want if they were offered this 12 years ago and could have a fully functioning Palestinian state today with many, if not all, of their demands.
AYALON: If I may interject just one thing – it’s “no, no” all over [again]. Just like [late Palestinian leader Yasser] Arafat did in Camp David in 2000. But I can go back to 1937 – the first Partition Plan was introduced.
ROSENBERG: You’re talking about the Peel Commission.
AYALON: Yes, and then it [the Partition Plan] was repeated in 1947, and then in 1967 we offered it, and then of course you had 2000 in Camp David, and 2008 in Annapolis as you mentioned by Olmert. And they said, “no, no, no,” thinking again [that] with an “all-or-nothing” approach that they would gain over time. But history shows that they just lose over time. Of course, the Olmert plan is no longer on the table because it would have risked us both politically and nationally.
Joel C. Rosenberg is the editor-in-chief of ALL ISRAEL NEWS and ALL ARAB NEWS and the President and CEO of Near East Media. A New York Times best-selling author, Middle East analyst, and Evangelical leader, he lives in Jerusalem with his wife and sons.