Abbas: Ready to Resume Talks ‘Where We Left Off’


Adozen years after they failed to agree on the contours of an Israeli-Palestinian peace plan, a former Israeli prime minister and the current head of the Palestinian Authority agreed this week that the latest U.S. Middle East peace plan is flawed.

Speaking at a joint press conference Tuesday afternoon at the Grand Hyatt in Manhattan, Ehud Olmert, Israeli prime minister in 2006-09, and Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian National Authority since 2005, said the peace plan proposed last month by President Trump is unlikely to bring peace by itself.

“Peace can be achieved [only] by genuine dialogue of the two sides,” Abbas said through a translator. “I’m fully ready to resume negotiations where we left off” in 2008, with the involvement of the Quartet — the U.N., the U.S., the European Union and Russia — on the basis of the 1967 borders, he said.

“Irrespective of the [fluctuating] relationship with our Israeli neighbors, we will not resort to violence,” Abbas said. “We don’t want violence.”

(Abbas’ comment came a week after a surge of Palestinian violence in the West Bank in reaction to the release of the Trump plan. At least three Palestinians were killed during clashes with Israeli security forces, and an Israeli soldier was seriously wounded in a car ramming in Jerusalem. In a separate incident, a man armed with a pistol opened fire on Israeli border police officers outside the Al Aqsa Mosque compound in the Old City of Jerusalem.)

Olmert, who has been an outspoken critic of Trump’s plan, appeared to have softened, saying he has urged Abbas to consider negotiating under the auspices of the U.S. proposal, since it advocates a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian impasse.

The two men met amidst gripes here and in Israel that Olmert no longer has a political base and that Abbas has been ineffectual as a leader of the Palestinians. Danny Danon, Israel’s representative at the United Nations, urged Olmert in an op-ed in the Jerusalem Post this week not to meet with Abbas, whom he described as “the very man who spurned peace over a decade ago, and who continues to deny it today.

“We must not strengthen the hand of those who reward terrorism and violence against our people,” Danon wrote. “You know very well that the road to resolving this conflict does not pass through New York, but only through Jerusalem and Ramallah.”

Nevertheless, Olmert called Abbas “the only partner we can deal with” to reach a peace agreement, calling himself “disappointed” that the Palestinian leader did not accept the terms he proposed in 2008. “I think he made a mistake. I have told him he made a mistake.”

The two men, who praised each other as seekers of peace, have maintained contact over the last several years. “We are in touch all the time,” Abbas said. “We have come a long way. We have made real progress.”

Olmert, who said re-entering political life in Israel is not on his agenda, said he deals with Abbas as a private citizen, not as a representative of the government or an Israeli party. He added that his views reflect those of many Israelis. “I speak for the interests of my nation,” he said.

Abbas has undertaken what he has described as a “diplomatic intifada,” which is likely to include a series of complaints filed against Israel at the International Criminal Court at The Hague. Earlier on Thursday he told the United Nations Security Council that the Trump proposal is “an Israeli-American preemptive plan in order to put an end to the question of Palestine.”

Abbas stated in his U.N. speech that the Palestinians remain committed to the 1993 Oslo Accords, and he described the Palestinian state envisioned by Trump’s plan as “Swiss cheese.”

“The plan rewards the occupation instead of holding it accountable for all the crimes it has perpetrated against our people and our land,” he said in the U.N. speech. “This plan will not bring peace or stability to the region and therefore we will not accept this plan, we will confront its application on the ground.”

The Palestinians earlier last month abandoned their request for a Security Council resolution that would reject the Trump plan; the Times of Israel reported that the resolution was withdrawn because it was unlikely to receive the required nine out of 15 votes in its favor.

Trump’s “deal of the century” proposal, which was largely designed by Jared Kushner, his son-in-law and political advisor, would include a truncated Palestinian state; Israeli control of most of the demilitarized West Bank, on which it has built settlements; Israeli control of the borders and border crossings; a freeze on Israeli construction of settlements earmarked for a future Palestinian state; Israeli control of most of annexed east Jerusalem and a Palestinian capital in Abu Dis, a Palestinian village on the outskirts of Jerusalem. It was hailed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a “historic breakthrough,” and rejected by Abbas and Olmert.

Olmert, Netanyahu’s predecessor as prime minister, has been one of the plan’s most vocal critics in Israel. He called the plan a “propaganda windfall” for Netanyahu and expressed concern that Israel was drifting toward becoming an apartheid state. 

Netanyahu joined Trump in announcing the plan in the midst of Trump’s impeachment trial. The Israeli premier will take part in a national election next month, the third in a year, while facing criminal charges of corruption and bribery. Trump is running for re-election in November.

During a 2008 meeting at Olmert’s Jerusalem residence, the prime minister and Abbas discussed a plan — described by veteran Mideast negotiator Dennis Ross as “far-reaching”— that would cede control of the Temple Mount to the Palestinians, withdraw Israelis from most areas of largely Arab East Jerusalem and from much of the West Bank, and keep several Israeli settlement blocs near Jerusalem intact. That plan would also called for a secure tunnel corridor between the West Bank and Gaza, a five-nation committee to oversee the holy sites of Jerusalem, an Israeli evacuation from the Jordan valley, and the absorption of some 5,000 Palestinian refugees into Israel over a five-year period.

Abbas rejected that proposal, claiming that Olmert refused to give him a copy of the plan’s map to study.

In the end, no peace agreement was signed, and in 2008 Olmert left office amid a corruption scandal. He served 16 months in prison and was released in 2017.

Out of prison, Olmert returned to politics, publicly meeting with Abbas in December 2018, and claiming that if he had remained in office, he would have been able to reach a peace deal with the Palestinians.