George W Bush reveals Abbas rejected secret peace deal

By Anshel Pfeffer, November 11, 2010

Much has been written about former US president George W Bush's new book, Decision Points, but one section has remained largely under the media radar.

According to Mr Bush, a peace deal was put together in secret talks between former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, including the handing over of the "vast majority" of the West Bank to a Palestinian state, but with some areas close to the pre-1967 borders that include Israeli settlements to remain within Israel.

The deal included an agreement on sharing sovereignty in Jerusalem, allowing a "limited number" of Palestinian refugees to live in Israel and
a tunnel connecting the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Mr Bush writes that both leaders accepted the details of the plan but Mr Abbas decided not to endorse it publicly when his Israeli counterpart resigned.

The Bush version is essentially the same as that presented by Mr Olmert a few months ago in a lecture, but the Palestinian Authority and Mr Abbas have repeatedly denied that a comprehensive agreement was ever reached.

Mr Bush also recalls a helicopter trip over Israel in 1998, while he still was the governor of Texas, together with then Foreign Minister Ariel Sharon, which convinced him of the need for the United States to keep to its commitment to Israel.

The president remained supportive of Ariel Sharon when both of them were elected leaders of their countries, although he characterises Mr Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount in September 2000 that sparked off the Second Intifada as "provocative".

He also writes that he thought Israel's Operation Defensive Shield in 2002, the response to the suicide bombing campaign in Israeli cities, was excessive and "counterproductive". Despite these criticisms, Mr Bush places the blame for the violence and failure to achieve peace almost solely on the former Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat. Mr Bush was convinced peace would be achieved only after the Palestinians had a new leadership.

Last updated: 3:21pm, November 11 2010