Olmert's "Peace Partner" Cannot Deliver and Has No Mandate
by Abdel Karim Shalabi
If Abbas were really a "partner for peace," how come he did not accept the generous offer -- which even included the division of Jerusalem -- he received from the Olmert government in 2008?
Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert insisted this week that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is a "partner for peace."
"No one can say to me after hundreds of hours of discussing peace with Abu Mazen [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas] that he is not a partner because he doesn't want peace," Olmert said in a speech at J Street's annual conference. "He wants peace with Israel and he accepts the existence of Israel as Israel declares itself to be."
But if Abbas were really a "partner for peace," how come he did not accept the generous offer he received from the Olmert government in 2008?
At that time, Olmert presented Abbas with a map that would have given the Palestinians control over most of the West Bank, and that also included the transfer of 327 square kilometers of territory from inside Israel to the Palestinians. In return, Israel would have annexed 6.3% of the West Bank to Israel.
Olmert's peace plan would have involved the evacuation of dozens of settlements and the creation of a safe passage route connecting the West Bank to the Gaza Strip via a highway. But as Abbas never responded to Olmert's plan, the negotiations between the two sides ended.
Olmert's plan was the most generous offer the Palestinians had ever received from an Israeli prime minister. Yet, Abbas the "peace partner," chose to ignore Olmert's plan even though it had included the division of Jerusalem into two cities.
The question today, however, is not whether or not Abbas is a peace partner. Rather, what Olmert needs to ask himself is whether the Palestinian president can deliver or not. The answer is very simple and clear. Even if Abbas wanted to deliver a peace deal, he cannot. Abbas's term in office expired in January 2009, but, because the US Administration wanted him to stay in power, he remained. The result is that he is seen by many Palestinians as an illegitimate leader. No Palestinian leader has a mandate to make any concessions to Israel in return for peace.
It is also not clear how Abbas is supposed to implement any peace agreement with Israel when he can not even visit the Gaza Strip, which Hamas ordered him to leave in 2007.
Abbas has no direct control over the more than 1.4 million Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip. He also does not enjoy the backing of millions of Palestinian refugees living in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. Most of these refugees are strongly opposed to any compromise that does not secure the "right of return" to their former villages and homes inside Israel.
Further, It is even not clear today whether Abbas enjoys the full backing of his own Fatah faction. A growing number of disgruntled Fatah officials are beginning to challenge Abbas's policies, with some going as far as calling on him to step down and pave the way for some new, emerging younger leaders.
Abbas's actions and words in the past few years show that he is a peace partner not for Israel, but for Hamas. Instead of returning to the negotiating table to talk with Israel, he has been talking with Hamas, which seeks the destruction of Israel, about ways of achieving "reconciliation" and forming a Palestinian unity government.
Just as Arafat dismissed the generous offer he received from former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak during the failed Camp David summit in 2000, Abbas rejected Olmert's plan because it did not offer all of the Palestinian leader's demands. Perhaps one of the biggest problems is also what happened during Israel's negotiations with us in Egypt: Egypt got from Israel 100% of what it asked for; how, after that, can any Arab leader ever settle for anything less?
Abdel Karim Shalabi is a journalist based in Cairo.