Rice recalls Olmert’s dramatic secret offer to Palestinians


Former U.S. secretary of state Condoleezza Rice said then Israeli premier Ehud Olmert made a secret offer in 2008 for a Palestinian state with holy sites under international control in a shared Jerusalem.

In excerpts from her new memoir “No Higher Honor,” obtained by AFP from Crown Publishers on Monday, Rice wrote that she was astounded when Olmert aired his plan when she visited him at his home in Israel in May 2008.

It was, she observed, a dramatic hard-to-imagine development, since then U.S. president George W. Bush and Rice had relaunched the peace process in Annapolis, Maryland, the preceding November.

Rice wrote that Olmert would offer the Palestinians, under the leadership of Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas, some 94 percent of the West Bank with land swaps to account for Israel’s retaining key settlements.

There would be two capitals, one for Israel in West Jerusalem and one for the Palestinians in East Jerusalem. There would be a joint city council with an Israeli mayor and a Palestinian deputy.

Olmert, she said, then offered to allow perhaps as many as 5,000 Palestinians to return to land that is now Israel.

And she said the Old City would be administered by a committee of “wise people” − rather than officials − from Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the Palestinian Authority, the United States and Israel.

Rice recalled: “Am I really hearing this? I wondered. Is the Israeli prime minister saying that he’ll divide Jerusalem and put an international body in charge of the holy sites.”

She then said Israel wanted U.S. help in obtaining a list of security demands, aspects of which he knew the Palestinians might have trouble accepting.

Rice promised to present the proposals the next day to Abbas.

She said Abbas immediately started negotiating, saying he could not accept the return of only 5,000 of some four million Palestinians refugees. However, Rice arranged a meeting between Abbas and Olmert.

In September, Rice said, Olmert gave Abbas a map outlining the territory of a Palestinian state, with Israel annexing about six percent.

“All the other elements were still on the table, including the division of Jerusalem. Olmert had insisted that Abbas sign then and there,” Rice wrote, according to the excerpts.

“When the Palestinian had demurred, wanting to consult his experts before signing, Olmert refused to give him the map,” the former top U.S. diplomat wrote, alluding to Olmert’s fears the details would leak.

“The Israeli leader told me that he and Abbas had agreed to convene their experts the next day. Apparently that meeting never took place,” she said.

Further efforts to revive the plan languished.