Ehud Olmert explains to 'Jpost' why he met with PA leader Mahmoud Abbas

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Ehud Olmert explains to 'Jpost' why he met with PA leader Mahmoud Abbas
Netanyahu never really planned to implement Trump’s peace plan.
By EHUD OLMERT
FEBRUARY 14, 2020

Last week, many people asked me why I decided that meeting with Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, was the right thing to do. I met with him following my trip to the United States, during which I expected to hear the official Palestinian stance regarding President Donald Trump’s peace “Deal of the Century” between Israel and the Palestinians. Admittedly, until very recently, the view most commonly held in Israel and around the world was that Trump’s “Deal of the Century” was really just a pact between Israel and the US. The public gala that took place in the East Room of the White House, starring Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, featured only two countries: Israel and the US. This impression is, however, not just misleading, but could potentially be disastrous.

Israel and America are connected by an alliance of mutual friendship, with no parallel relationship between two other countries anywhere else in the world. Few countries are so closely intertwined and supportive of each other as Israel and America. Trump has demonstrated deep feelings of responsibility toward the State of Israel and a strong commitment to keep us safe. It’s easy to understand the enthusiasm expressed from both the Right and Left within Israel following Trump’s impressive expression of friendship and desire to keep Israel safe, especially considering how heavily our economic and political stability relies on this relationship. All of this is true. The only problem is that these issues were not the subject of the peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.

Now that the initial enthusiasm from the glamorous ball at the White House has dissipated a little, an unsolved mystery still remains: How does the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians fit into this exciting scenario? And are the talks to implement Trump’s ideas actually on our agenda? Does anyone even believe that actual negotiations will take place? It turns out that there is one such person – the current prime minister, who will be completing his last term a few weeks from now. Netanyahu never really planned to implement Trump’s peace plan. This was just another one of his famous stunts. From his point of view, why should we make peace with the Palestinians if instead we can just unilaterally annex the Jordan Valley and thereafter be able to apply Israeli law to all of the settlements in Judea and Samaria – and take control of the rest of the land that theoretically belonged to the PA. According to Bibi, this should put a stop to terrorist attacks and would bring about a period calm. The Palestinian problem would just disappear from our lives.

It turns out, however, that an administration that feels a deep responsibility to Israel is not willing to get carried away with the prime minister’s antics. Netanyahu and his posse still hold out hope that the American president will tear up his “Deal of the Century” and accept Israel’s unilateral annexation, which is likely to fan the flames of terror and even undermine the shaky peace we have with Jordan and Egypt. It’s common knowledge that Trump is known for not feeling bound to protocol previous American presidents and most leaders of the Western world follow. It turns out that Trump doesn’t work for Netanyahu. There’s no doubt that he feels committed to Israel, to his aides, US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman and, of course, to his son-in-law Jared Kushner, all of whom love Israel and want to keep it safe. None of them, however, are interested in coming out looking like Netanyahu’s puppets.

Apparently, the second section of the deal, which states that there should be two states for two nations, was not just an empty slogan, but a requirement that the US thinks should be the foundation of the long-awaited deal. Be that as it may, Netanyahu is not ready to cross this line. In fact, he never intended that this agreement would be actually be implemented. He would never agree to making east Jerusalem the capital of a Palestinian state. I have no complaints about Naftali Bennett, Rafi Peretz and Bezalel Smotrich – at least they say what they really believe regarding negotiations with the Palestinians. They openly claim that they’re not willing to give up one inch of the Land of Israel.

Netanyahu, on the other hand, is happy to say one thing when he actually believes the opposite. He is under the impression he can eat his entire cake – even the last crumb – and still have it, too. Even a charlatan like Netanyahu, however, cannot pull off such a trick. He can accept the Trump plan in its entirety, and accept the idea of two states for two nations. What he cannot do, though, is say that he accepts it but then prance around from one Likud branch to another inciting against his detractors. Netanyahu is well aware that if he publicly expresses his support for the Trump plan, including recognizing a Palestinian state with sovereignty over most of the West Bank, he will lose the support of the Right bloc, which will eliminate any chance he had at being reelected. In the end, it appears that the person who everyone thought was the Trump deal’s biggest supporter is in actuality its most staunch opponent.

Under these circumstances, the only path Netanyahu can see available to him is to lie and disseminate falsehoods about his opponents – anyone who has enough integrity to reveal his actual beliefs. Twenty-five years ago, Netanyahu was the source of the incitement against Yitzhak Rabin, which led to at atmosphere of hatred, angry protests and perhaps to the great tragedy that shocked the Israeli people to its core. I personally am not wiling to give in to the brutal violence carried out by Netanyahu and his gang of thugs.

I truly believe that it is in Israel’s best interest to separate ourselves from the Palestinians and agree to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. It’s clear that a large portion of Israelis wish to end Israeli control over millions of Palestinians, who are not able to live freely or enjoy civil rights in the country where they reside. In order to reach such a status, the first thing we need to do is sit down at the table and carry out true dialogue. The Trump deal is not a balanced agreement and it cannot be used as a base for negotiations. The plan does, however, include a number of positive elements that, if addressed properly, could lead to a historical settlement between Israel and the Palestinians. Netanyahu prefers to “speak” (indirectly) to Hamas in Gaza.

I was convinced that the necessary step was to sit down and talk with Abbas, and so that is what I did. There are huge gaps between our desires and outlooks, but if they were smaller, we would have reached an understanding with the Palestinians 12 years ago. Today, in the absence of an agreement, the best course of action is still to engage in dialogue. All Netanyahu is interested in is unilateral annexation – no matter how high the price in our blood may be. I think otherwise. I do not currently hold any public office and I do not profess to represent any political group. I am not in contact with Blue and White leader Benny Gantz or his partners in the Blue and White leadership. But I will not let the verbal violence and incitement coming from Netanyahu, Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev and Smotrich prevent me from expressing my opinions and acting in a way that befits a person living in a democratic and tolerant nation.

The writer was the 12th prime minister of Israel.

https://www.jpost.com/Opinion/Why-I-met-with-Mahmoud-Abbas-617541
 
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