Posted by Harriet Sherwood
Thursday 27 January 2011 12.00 GMT
Former Israeli prime minister describes ‘weight of Jewish history on my shoulders’ in talks with Mahmoud Abbas
The memoirs of Ehud Olmert, the former prime minister of Israel, are to be published shortly, to add to the deluge of recent material on negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. Yedioth Ahronoth, the Israeli daily, published this interesting teaser for its serialisation this weekend.
I had a meeting scheduled with Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas] for September 16 . I began by presenting the principles of the arrangement that I was proposing. After I finished, Abu Mazen sighed deeply, and asked to see the map that I had prepared. I spread it out. He looked at it, and I looked at him. He was silent.
Never before had any Israeli prime minister presented such a crystallized and detailed position about resolving the conflict as was presented to him on that day. For the first time since the negotiations began, I was very tense. For the first time since I had become prime minister, I truly felt the weight of Jewish history on my shoulders, and despite the fact that I was confident that I was doing the right thing, the negotiations were very heavy.
Abu Mazen said that he could not decide and that he needed time. I told him that he was making an historic mistake.
“Give me the map so that I can consult with my colleagues,” he said to me. “No,” I replied. “Take the pen and sign now. You’ll never get an offer that is more fair or more just. Don’t hesitate. This is hard for me too, but we don’t have an option of not resolving [the conflict].”
I saw that he was agonizing [over it]. In the end he said to me, “Give me a few days. I don’t know my way around maps. I propose that tomorrow we meet with two map experts, one from your side and one from our side. If they tell me that everything is all right, we can sign.” The next day they called and said that Abu Mazen had forgotten that they needed to be in Amman that day, and they asked to postpone the meeting by a week.
I haven’t met with Abu Mazen since then. The map stayed with me.
Olmert and his aides have always insisted that the Palestinians missed an historic opportunity in 2008. The Palestinians have since said that a deal made with a lame duck prime minister (Olmert had given notice of stepping down because of corruption allegations) would have been worthless. This, of course, is Olmert’s account – but another fascinating piece of this complicated jigsaw.