JERUSALEM (AP) – Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert offered to swap Israeli territory near the Gaza Strip and West Bank in exchange for settlement blocs in the West Bank, the Haaretz newspaper reported Thursday, in the most detailed account of the former Israeli leader’s proposed peace offer to the Palestinians.
The Palestinians did not respond to the September 2008 proposal, submitted at a time when Olmert’s ability to negotiate a peace deal was compromised by corruption allegations that eventually forced him to step down. Talks broke down after Israel’s war against Gaza militants a year ago and never resumed.
Since leaving office in March, Olmert has said he offered the Palestinians unprecedented concessions, including a broad withdrawal from almost all of the West Bank and shared control of Jerusalem.
Olmert has also said he offered the Palestinians small pieces of Israeli territory in exchange for keeping major Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
In all, Olmert proposed ceding Israeli territory equivalent to 5.8 percent of the West Bank for a slightly larger piece of the West Bank where 75 percent of the 300,000 Jewish settlers live. The rest of the settlers would be evacuated under his proposal.
Among the Israeli territory he offered was nearly 39 square miles (100 square kilometers) near the tiny Gaza Strip and nearly 88 square miles (227 square kilometers) close to the West Bank, much of it from the Judean desert near the West Bank’s southern end, Haaretz said, citing unidentified sources familiar with Olmert’s proposals.
The former Israeli leader also proposed a road link through Israel to allow Palestinians to travel between the West Bank and Gaza, which lie on opposite sides of Israel. That highway would have remained sovereign Israeli territory but there would have been no Israeli presence there, Haaretz said.
While Olmert has spoken in general terms about his offer, the Haaretz report offered far greater detail.
In an interview with Haaretz earlier this week, Abbas said Olmert presented several maps for consideration. And Olmert’s office said in response to Haaretz that the map he presented to Abbas on Sept. 16, 2008 differed from the map Haaretz published Thursday.
Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said Olmert wanted 6.5 percent of the West Bank in exchange for Israeli territory equivalent to 5.8 percent of the West Bank. The corridor between the West Bank and Gaza would make up the balance. Erekat said Abbas counter-offered a land swap equal to 1.9 percent of the West Bank. The three major settlement blocs make up about 2.5 percent of the West Bank, but they are served by a network of Israeli-built roads that eat up additional territory.
Erekat said the two parties were to have gone to Washington on Jan. 3 “to lock in this deal and see if we could further these offers.
“Unfortunately, Olmert went into a war in Gaza,” so the Palestinians didn’t go, he said.
Thursday’s report could give ammunition to both the Palestinians and the conservative government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The Palestinians have demanded that Netanyahu resume talks from where they broke down under Olmert. Israeli hard-liners, meanwhile, say the Palestinian failure to accept Olmert’s offer proves they are not serious about peace.
Under U.S. pressure, Netanyahu has imposed a 10-month moratorium on certain settlement construction in a move designed to persuade the Palestinians to resume negotiations. But the Palestinians say they will not resume talks until there is a full halt to all construction, including in east Jerusalem, which they claim as the
capital of their future state.
Israel captured the West Bank and east Jerusalem in the 1967 Mideast war. Netanyahu opposes any Israeli withdrawal from east Jerusalem.