Olmert’s peace plan dismissed

By Simon Griver, August 14, 2008

A peace plan offered by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that would see 93 per cent of the West Bank handed to the Palestinians was this week dismissed by both President Mahmoud Abbas and the Israeli media.

Nabil Abu Rudaineh, a spokesman for Mr Abbas, said the plan - which would also give the Palestinians land in the Negev adjacent to Gaza, equalling 5.5 per cent of the territory retained - was "lacking seriousness". It did not specify that Jerusalem would be the capital of the Palestinian state, he said, and there would be no land connection between Gaza and the West Bank.

With Mr Olmert considered a "lame duck" premier and the plan contingent on the Palestinian Authority regaining control of the Gaza Strip from Hamas, the Israeli media also failed to take the offer seriously. The country's two largest newspapers, Maariv and Yediot Ahronoth, and the major TV news bulletins did not even mention Israel's offer.

Under the reported plan, Israel would retain large areas around Jerusalem including the settlements of Gush Etzion and Maaleh Adumim, as well as the region around Ariel. In return, Israel would relinquish a large area of the Negev as first suggested in 2000 by then Prime Minister Ehud Barak to Yasser Arafat. The new Palestinian state would have no army and would renounce the Palestinian Right of Return.

The Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem refused to comment on the reports. However, the Israeli right were taking the proposed plan very seriously, and settler leaders vowed to oppose any territorial compromise. Likud MK Gidon Saar said: "In the last elections, Kadima dressed itself up as a centrist party, but this plan clearly shows it is on the extreme left."

Some saw Mr Olmert's plan as an attempt to impress upon the US administration that Israel is striving for peace within the framework of the process begun in Annapolis last November.

The Israeli government may want to counter Mr Abbas's suggestion earlier this week that the Palestinians may revert to the idea of "one state for two peoples", harking back to the PLO mantra of a secular, democratic Palestine for Jews and Arabs.

    Last updated: 4:11pm, August 14 2008