Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has said that during his tenure as Premier he had reached an agreement with the United States for them to absorb 100,000 Palestinian refugees as American citizens as part of a peace deal.
He added that he struck a deal with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas according to which Israel would absorb ‘a minimal amount’ of refugees.
‘The numbers discussed were below 20,000, but this would require an end to the conflict and a Palestinian announcement that they would not make any more demands,’ Olmert told a Geneva Initiative conference in Tel Aviv on Sunday evening.
The Bush administration had offered this American contribution to the refugee problem as part of what would be a framework of international compensation, he said.
‘I think that if the refugees – many of whom are already second or third generation (Palestinians) living outside of the territories – were given a choice between returning to Israel or the United States, we could guess what they would choose,’ he said.
‘If we had reached an agreement, it would have changed the map of the world and the entire Middle East.
‘We are not to blame. If there is no agreement, it’s because the Palestinian side was not prepared to take the extra step that we made,’ Olmert added.
‘I suggested that the refugee issue be resolved in the framework of the Arab peace initiative.
‘I’m glad the current government is talking about the Road Map, which states that one of the cornerstones of peace is the Arab initiative,’ the former Israeli prime minister said.
Olmert also claimed the Palestinians now regret not accepting his offer.
In veiled criticism of current Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, he challenged him to put reaching a diplomatic agreement ahead of staying in power.
‘I don’t doubt the current prime minister’s resolve to protect Israel’s security,’ Olmert said. ‘But when a man reaches such a lofty position, he must consider: What will you do with the time you have?
‘You must be loyal to the truth you believe in,’ he said.
‘You can’t abandon this responsibility because of political considerations.’
Regarding Netanyahu’s construction moratorium in ‘Judea’ and ‘Samaria’ (West Bank) settlements, Olmert said the Palestinians and the American administration did not agree with the building that he did in the West Bank, but they agreed to accept it and the Palestinians did not use it as an excuse to avoid advancing the diplomatic process.
Olmert said the Obama administration is not hostile towards Israel, saying, ‘There is no difference between (former US President George W) Bush’s positions and Obama’s positions.
‘Obama would have been very pleased if the proposals presented by the current (Israeli) government would have been the same as those presented by us (Olmert’s government),’ he said.
According to Olmert, a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must be based on the 1967 borders.
‘I don’t want to address the issue of territorial exchanges. I hope it will be negotiated on soon,’ he said.
Olmert insisted that following the path he had suggested as prime minister was the only way to achieve peace. ‘During my final meeting with Abbas, I presented a plan, including maps.’
As for his plan to turn over some Arab neighbourhoods in occupied east Jerusalem to Palestinian control, Olmert said: ‘The holy sites will be controlled by five different sides.
‘If we reach such an agreement, the world will shake with excitement.
‘If we do not follow the path I suggested – there will be no chance for peace. I was mayor of (occupied) Jerusalem for ten years. No one fought for its unity more than I did.’
In response to Olmert’s remarks that the US had agreed to take in 100,000 Palestinian refugees as part of a solution to the conflict, a Palestinian source said that if such an agreement had been reached, it had been with the US alone.
The source said disagreement had remained on the subject of refugees right to the end.
‘We wanted Israel to absorb hundreds of thousands, while Israel talked about absorbing far fewer,’ the source said, but confirmed that various countries around the world, including the US, Canada and some Scandinavian countries, had agreed to take in thousands.
l A ship with 650 tons of Syrian humanitarian aid on board set off on Saturday from Tartous harbour to the Gaza Strip.
The aid is offered by the Syrian people to the people of Gaza as a sign of solidarity against the unjust Israeli blockade on the Strip.
State Minister for the Syrian Red Crescent, Bashar al-Shaar, said the ship, which sailed to Gaza via the Egyptian port of El-Arish, carries 650 tons of humanitarian aid, 40 tons of which are medical aid.
‘The Syrian people, from all walks of life, sent in the donations, mainly the NGOs and economic bodies,’ he said, in the hope ‘it will alleviate the suffering of the besieged Palestinians in Gaza.’
Chairman of the Syrian Red Crescent, Abdulrahman al-Attar, hoped the aid will find its way to Gaza as soon as possible to ease the plight of the Palestinians there as a result of Israel’s unjust siege on Gaza.
Last Saturday morning a large land convoy, ‘the largest flotilla yet’ began making its way from around the world to the Gaza Strip.
Vehicles were loaded onto ships and are en-route to the port of el-Arish where they hope to be allowed to unload and drive into Gaza.
According to press reports, about 450 vehicles are expected to participate in the land convoy which is organised by former British MP George Galloway.
Vehicles are coming from England, Qatar, Kuwait, Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco.
In January, the Egyptians banned Galloway from using their territory for Gaza-bound convoys and accused the former British MP’s organisation Viva Palestina of criminal activity.
In August, an all-woman aid boat from Lebanon delayed its plans to set sail for Gaza, after Israel warned it would use force if necessary to prevent the ship from docking.
The voyage of the boat, christened ‘The Mariam’, planned to sail from a Greek-controlled Cyprus port, which later said it would not allow the ship to sail.
The wave of aid ships hoping to dock in Gaza follows an Israeli raid on the Freedom Flotilla in international waters on 31 May, during which Israeli commandos killed nine Turkish nationals.
l Palestinian detainees in all Israeli jails have announced they will go on hunger strike on Saturday September 25th in protest at the heightened abuse they have recently suffered from the Israeli occupation prisons authority.
‘The Israeli prisons authority has launched an unprecedented campaign against prisoners since the direct negotiations started, which reflects the Israeli government’s lack of integrity in developing the so-called “just peace” with the Palestinian people,’ the detainees said in a statement.
The statement added that the brutal assault against the Ofer detainees, use of excessive force and fierce means of repression, including dogs, batons, and tear gas without reasonable cause, indicate that there is a plan targeting detainees’ rights.
They underscored in the statement that the Israeli prisons authority uses special forces to carry out provocative search campaigns, which include strip searches and other forms of humiliation, and transfers detainees from one prison to another while holding other detainees in solitary confinement.
The Israeli occupation authority has denied detainees the right to visits, imposed fines on them, banned books and newspapers, and prohibited them from purchasing needed foods during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr holiday.
Detainees believe the Israelis have kicked off an ‘open war’ against their lives and rights without anyone to fight in their corner.
Gaza’s prisoner committee asked the international community to issue international resolutions to protect Palestinian detainees in Israeli jails.
The committee’s media official Nashaat al-Wahidi said on Saturday that a long time ago Israel set off an open war against detainees, using racist measures that are tantamount to war crimes that should be prosecuted in international courts.
The transfer of sick detainees from hospitals to prisons was an indication that Israel had begun an open war against prisoners, Wahidi stated.