PaliLeaks brought us a one-sided, Palestinian view of some of the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations via a third party but the world hungers to know what occurred on the other side. Now, in a yet-to-be released autobiography, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert opens up about his private negotiations with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Olmert said,
“It’s hard for me too. Take the pen and sign it.”
Act For Israel brings you a sneak peak of the talks, how things were handled on the Israeli side and what really happened in these covert peace negotiations. Stay tuned for the release.
Chapter 1: The Sde Boker Speech
On December 1, 2003, the annual memorial service was about to take place for David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister. The evening before, I had been at a bar mitzvah in Afula and on my way home, late at night, I got a call from Dubi Weissglass, the prime minister’s bureau chief and right-hand man. “Arik has a bad cold and cannot participate in the annual Ben-Gurion memorial ceremony tomorrow,” he said, “He asked that you go to Sde Boker and speak in his stead.” The ceremony was supposed to begin at 11:00 a.m. and Dubi suggested I grab a ride on the president’s helicopter. I asked Dubi to fax me at home a copy of the speech Arik had planned to give, but even then, in the car, I decided to use the opportunity to share with the Israeli public the thoughts that had been forming in my heart for a long time already.
When I got home, the draft of Arik’s speech was waiting for me. I read it over a sandwich I made for myself, with growing surprise: Arik’s speech was overflowing with quotes from Ben-Gurion speeches, and among other things included a clear reference to the need for territorial compromise. Lines from the speech I was going to make the next day started forming in my mind. Usually I spend a lot more time drafting a speech in my head than actually writing it. When the main points are clear to me, the words just flow onto the paper.
Ben-Gurion’s burial site was jam-packed with people. Over the years the annual ceremony commemorating David and Paula Ben-Gurion had turned into a special state occasion. Alongside family members stood IDF generals, the chief of general staff, police commissioners and the chief of police, most of Israel’s political elite, the president of the state, numerous foreign diplomats and many guests, some of them settlers from the region on whom Ben-Gurion’s aura still cast a spell all these years after his death. Even if I had planned it for months in advance; I couldn’t have chosen a more fitting place from which to embark on a journey that at the time I never imagined where it would lead.
I was called to the microphone with the emphasis that I was filling in for the prime minister who had a cold. After some standard opening remarks, I moved on to the real substance. It took some time for those present to understand what they were hearing, but heads started lifting when I quoted Ben-Gurion’s words from 1949 during a Knesset debate on the ceasefire agreements: “’…when we were faced with the choice between the entire land of Israel without a Jewish state, or a Jewish state without the entire land of Israel – we chose a Jewish state without the entire land of Israel.’” I paused briefly and then continued: “David Ben-Gurion, already a retired statesman, ruled that in exchange for true peace, Israel must relinquish a vast majority of the territories occupied in the Six Day War.” Since then, I added, much has happened, facts were established on the ground, agreements were signed, and the international arena changed beyond recognition, but the bloody conflict with the Palestinians has not ended. It was time to end it.
When I finished speaking, a murmur went through the crowd. I returned to my seat and Rubi Rivlin, also then Speaker of the Knesset, leaned towards me and said, “This is a disaster.” I didn’t respond, and he added, “Your words are the beginning of the end; this will cause an earthquake in the Likud.” Rubi and I were not close friends. An abyss of political battles lay between us, leaving a gloomy atmosphere that colored our relations for a long time; but to his credit I must say that he is a sincere, honest man who never hides his true feelings. I knew he was reacting straight from the heart, and that he wouldn’t be the only one. That feeling deepened when Shimon Peres leaned towards me and said, “Excellent speech,” and even more so when Ehud Barak, then a private citizen, came up to me after the ceremony and hugged me, saying it had been an historic speech.
When I returned to Jerusalem and heard the radio broadcasts, I understood that the words had not only aroused significant public interest, but also enormous anger in the Likud.
I heard nothing from Arik. True, he was at home with a cold, but I guessed he felt well enough to yell at me if he wanted to. Later that day Dubi Weissglass called me and said he’d heard I had given a good speech. “You don’t have to get worked up about the loudmouths at the Likud,” he added, “We know them, after all.” I was glad to hear him say it. I kept on with my daily routine and returned home at a pretty standard hour for those days, close to midnight.
Aliza, who was waiting up for me, reported that Nahum Barnea from Yediot Aharonot had called and said he would like to speak with me that night, no matter how late. I called him. Nahum, one of Israel’s most veteran journalists, had heard me say in private conversations in the past similar things to what I said in my speech at Sde Boker. Now he suggested that we do an interview for his paper’s weekend supplement. “I think the time has come,” he said.
We met two days later and Yediot Aharonot came out on Friday, December 5, with the terse front-page headline “Olmert in Favor of Unilateral Withdrawal.”
The interview caused a real turmoil. I said there, among other things, “We are getting close to the point where more and more Palestinians will say, ‘We’ve been convinced. We agree with Liberman. We don’t need a Palestinian state. All we want is the right to vote.’ That’s the day that we’ll lose everything.” Later in the interview I added, “The choice we will face is between something less than the Geneva Initiative, and an all-inclusive unilateral move….The borders certainly won’t match the borders of the Greater Land of Israel in which I believed.” I also said that as part of the future agreement we would have to relinquish neighborhoods in Jerusalem.
That’s it. I said almost everything in that one interview. I think these things had been floating around in the political air for quite a while, including on the fringes of the Likud, but they had not yet been uttered so unequivocally, and by someone standing in for the prime minister.
All the dams burst at once. Starting in the early morning hours, all the media forces dealt only with the interview. The analyses, the commentaries, the guesses and expectations were beyond anything familiar to me; the public uproar spread in every direction. Plenty of reactions, mostly sympathetic, came from all over the world. Completely different reactions came from the Likud and the extreme right in Israel. Although I was not exactly devoid of public experience, as a result of my many years as a member of Knesset, in the government, and as the mayor of Jerusalem, I was taken aback by the intensity of the responses.
There was just one place I hadn’t gotten a reaction from: Sycamore Ranch. Silence. I wasn’t apprehensive, but I was curious. In the late afternoon I got a call from Dubi Weissglass. “I salute you,” he said, adding that Arik would also be calling within the next few minutes.
The call was not long in coming. Arik was calm and friendly. He told me that he felt wonderful and so I could lift from myself the heavy burden of substituting for him that I had borne for the past few days. We both laughed, and I told him that now I would have an easier Sabbath. Then he added, “By the way, where am I catching you; are you at home?” The question sounded strange to me. “Yeah, sure,” I answered. “Ah-ha,” Arik made his famous snort, “I just wanted to know if you’re still in our sovereign territory, or else in Jerusalem which is going to be handed over to the Palestinians.” We laughed again, and agreed to talk during the week. Throughout all the news broadcasts, reactions and commentaries, there was no trace of disapproval from the Prime Minister’s Office. Not in Arik’s name, not from his inner circle and not from any other anonymous source. I didn’t need anything more than that. I understood that what I had said reflected the state of mind that had apparently been ripening in Arik. If that was indeed the case, I told myself, we were marching toward a political and national shakeup of historic proportions. I never for a moment regretted being in the eye of this storm. I believed this was the right path for the State of Israel.
A few days later, I was sitting with Arik in his office in the Knesset. He confirmed my assessments. “Gilad has been telling me for some time that only unilateral moves on our part will extract Israel from international pressure to move towards the Geneva Initiative,” he said. The direction was clear, and I knew we were starting a thousand-mile journey that would change the political and social life in Israel.
It is impossible to address these goings-on without explaining how this change came about within me. For years I had been among the rightwing markers of the heated political debate that characterized our public life. In my capacity as mayor of Jerusalem I headed the national and international struggle against re-dividing the city. I lost no opportunity to express this view in public, often using strong words against our political rivals on the left.
At the same time, I thought there was no way to seriously discuss the unity of Jerusalem without also relating fairly and generously to its Palestinian residents. During my term as mayor I built more schools for Arab pupils in East Jerusalem than had been built throughout all the years that had passed since the Six Day War, and I invested substantial amounts of money in improving the quality of life for non-Jewish residents. Community centers were erected in various Arab neighborhoods, roads were paved, sidewalks and street lighting were put in. Yet during that whole time, I was still captive to the fight slogans of “Our United Capital Forevermore.”
Very slowly I began to feel that the slogans about Jerusalem’s unity did not mesh with the reality of life in the city, which I became acquainted with in a way that only a mayor can. The gap between the western part of Jerusalem and the eastern part was unbearable. The municipality’s financial means were not capable of changing this reality; and the government – actually all of Israel’s governments – satisfied itself with tired catchphrases about the indivisibility of the city without doing anything to turn the words into actual reality.
The more time that passed, the more I felt I had to start examining the reality clearheadedly. When dealing with the political aspects of Jerusalem’s status, we have to distance ourselves from our deep emotional connection to this special city and to think in more practical terms. The main question was how to prevent the growing friction between its variegated Jewish population and the thousands of Palestinians living there. I was familiar with the demographic data and I knew that the Palestinians were liable to become a majority within a few years. I understood that in Jerusalem, just like in Judea and Samaria, we have to leave only what is essential and unavoidable under our control; otherwise we shall lose all.
It wasn’t as easy as it sounds. I went through a prolonged soul-searching process that caused me a difficult emotional and ideological crisis, but I couldn’t go on fooling myself. The facts on the ground were completely different from everything I had been fighting for in the course of so many years, and the gap was only getting bigger.
For a considerable part of my term as mayor of Jerusalem, the city was under incessant terrorist attacks. The second Intifada began on the eve of Rosh Hashana, 5761 (2000). Around the time of Arik Sharon’s visit to the Temple Mount, but not because of it, riots broke out there during Friday prayer services, on September 28, 2000. For three years the “city of peace” was subject to one of the worst disruptions in its history. Suicide attacks left thousands wounded, hundreds dead, and the wrecked fabric of entire lives. The city was almost completely paralyzed; people were afraid to go outside or take the buses. Whole streets, particularly the main street traversing the city, Jaffa Road, stood almost empty. Parents were scared to let their children go to school by themselves, for fear that they would fall victim to chance terrorists. Every few days a suicide bomber would blow up in a café, a restaurant, a public bus, or inside the crowd waiting at a stoplight. It was the most arduous time of my life. Almost every day I was witness to these horrific sights in the heart of my city. I saw the pain in people’s eyes and knew how hard it was to fight these murderers and track them down before they blow themselves up and cause such terrible killing and destruction. It was impossible to comfort hundreds of families who lost their loved ones, not even with explanations about the monumental efforts the security forces were investing in trapping the killers.
My days back then were divided between the various hospitals in the city, which did their absolute utmost to save the lives of people who had been injured in the terror attacks, and the never-ending funerals. There was not one single funeral of a terror victim that I did not attend, and at most of them I was asked to give a eulogy, for people whose lives I usually learned about only after their deaths. A mayor occupies a special status among the people of his city. The government is a distant, somewhat disassociated body; a mayor is “ours.” You can get hold of him, make requests, complain to him, and even curse him and accuse him. Sometimes people need a concrete specific person to take their anger out on. A mayor is the authoritative address and he may be reached, so they reached me. I would stand before them, biting my lips, taking it all. I couldn’t permit myself the luxury of crying, but on more than one occasion when I got home in the evening I’d tell Aliza, “I can’t take this anymore.” It just broke my heart, and often.
I remember everything, but I remember some things more. One morning I was on my way to my regular barber in the Talpiot neighborhood, and I received word that there had been a terror attack on the 32 bus, next to the Pat neighborhood intersection. I instructed my driver to take me there on the double. When I arrived, the bodies of 19 people who had been killed were still inside the bus, which was totally scorched. After a while the men from Zaka – the disaster victim identification unit – came to evacuate them and laid the bodies on the sidewalk wrapped in white sheets. One of the bodies was 12-year-old Galila from the Gilo neighborhood. Galila was not Jewish. Her parents were Christian Ethiopians who worked at the King David Hotel, and their beautiful daughter studied at the Paula Ben-Gurion School at the entrance to the Rehavia neighborhood. I went to visit her parents at the Ethiopian church, next to Sarei Yisrael Street. They were grief-stricken. Galila’s father told me that on the morning of the explosion he had a bad feeling, and suggested to Galila that he drive her to school in his car. Galila refused. She told him she had learned to sit in a place that would protect her even if a terrorist got on the bus. Her father gave in. Then it turned out that the terrorist had sat down in the seat next to her. Her mother, exhausted from weeping, turned to me: “Mr. Mayor,” she implored me, “you have a lot of influence. Ask the police to try and find out if anything is left of our daughter, maybe a piece of her shoes, maybe the shoelaces, so we’ll have something left of our Galila.’ I promised to try. Two days later I had not choice but to tell Galila’s mother that there was not anything left. Nothing. How do you learn to live with situations like this? What kind of training can you undergo to be capable of telling parents that nothing is left of their daughter?
Later, I repeated the story of Galila and her parents when speaking to both houses of Congress during my first visit to the United States as prime minister. Galila’s story touched the hearts of many. Democratic Senator Harry Reid told me he had cried and that he wasn’t the only one.
The employees of the municipal welfare department were always on the front lines. They were the first to arrive at every terror strike, and from there went to knock on the doors of the victims’ families and break the most terrible of all news to them. Then they accompanied the families to the Abu Kabir Forensic Institute to help them identify the fallen. Day after day, death after death, I don’t know how they bore it.
When I stepped down from city hall, I asked to meet with them. I thanked them, and then we tried to talk, to release some of the tension that had built up in each one of us, but words refused to come. We all just sat there hugging each other, in silence, crying together. There was no need for words; they had no place there.
The evolving change in my positions, however, was not impacted just by the events occurring in Jerusalem. The process was deeper and more fundamental. Even if I tried to deny it to myself, the facts were becoming clearer and more painful the more time that went by.
I saw the amazing settlement enterprise in the territories of Judea and Samaria. It’s hard not to marvel at the motivation, vision and devotion that characterized many of the people who moved to these areas. Today, when we see the well-tended settlements with their spectacularly beautiful houses and blooming gardens, it’s hard to recall that 40 years ago these were all barren lands. The State of Israel invested billions in them, and most of us supported that. A handful of Israel-loving settlers spread out in the hills and totally altered the political and social reality in which we lived. It was so successful that we didn’t take note of the looming disaster. Many people, myself included, ignored the ramifications of mixing the two populations, the fatal impairment of the free movement, quality of life and civil rights of the Palestinian residents who lived near the expanding Jewish population. Many of us, myself again no exception, refused to listen to the voices of caution being sounded in Israel and abroad, warning us against the irreparable entanglement that was being created in the territories.
Forty years ago we thought we could hold on to all the territories and that everything would work out. We weren’t smart enough to understand that it was an impossible heart’s desire. We didn’t grasp that what seemed to us to be the liberation of our historical nation was liable to gradually look like an occupation that would make us despicable in the eyes of the territories’ residents, and later of the entire world.
And mainly we ignored the demographic problem, the danger that Israel would be portrayed in the world as a country that tramples the civil rights of millions of people living under its areas of jurisdiction and bars them from the basics of democratic life that we are committed to. The Palestinians, as usual, did not help. They missed every opportunity to achieve dialogue and reconciliation, and kicked the bucket at every turn. I, however, am not concerned with the Palestinians, but with the fate of the Jews.
We are standing on the brink of change in the nature of the struggle. The day is nearing when the Palestinians will give up their demand for an autonomous state, and will accept the existence of one state. Instead of fighting us, they will insist on equal rights, demand citizenship, turn out en masse to vote for Knesset in accordance with all the rules of a democratic government. If we don’t stop this, we’re liable to lose the Jewish State of Israel. There was a time this sounded like a deluded, far-off prophecy; today it is a reality snowballing in front of our very eyes and it may be, God forbid, already too late to stave it off. We don’t have a lot of opportunities left, and we have to do something. It is not the Palestinians who are losing time, but us. We must not resign ourselves to this loss.
Many a time I have been asked how influenced I was by the opinions I heard expressed at home, at first by my wife and later by my children as well. Aliza, my wife of over 40 years, grew up in a completely different political habitat than I did. She thought differently than I, and told me so in countless conversations. If I said that dialogues like this didn’t make an impression on me, it would be not only arrogant but also indicate a kind of obtuseness and, most especially, it wouldn’t be true. Aliza has influenced me in the past, and continues to do so today. My children, too, spoke their minds on many an occasion, in the free and open atmosphere in which we lived our lives and interacted in our home, and I listened to them as well. My friends on the right sometimes asked how come my family didn’t agree with me. I would smile and answer that I was proud that my family members had been so tolerant of me throughout the years, despite my lack of support for their positions. Nevertheless, in our house there was always absolute separation between family discussions and my public activity. What happened at home stayed at home. At times various people tried to attribute to Aliza political and public activity in which she had never taken part. She was in no way associated with the Women in Black organization, the Meretz movement or Peace Now, but that didn’t stop malicious statements attempting to ascribe to her and the children public activity that never took place. With all due respect to our living room discussions, what ultimately influenced me more than anything else was the reality unfolding before my eyes. I am proud that I was able to admit, first of all to myself, then to my family, and eventually to the public at large, that in 2005 I didn’t think what I had thought 20 years earlier. I believe that an inability to change one’s position when circumstances change so fundamentally is worse than the mistake itself.
I was also asked how my parents, Bella and Mordechai Olmert of blessed memory, would have reacted to the positions I am identified with today. It wouldn’t be fair to speak for them. They both belonged to the Betar youth movement, Zionists who immigrated to Israel from faraway China, where they had grown up deeply entrenched in the ideals of Ze’ev Jabotinsky. My parents were members of the Irgun and among the pioneers of the Herut party. My father served as a member of Knesset for Herut during the fifties and early sixties, but he wasn’t a politician in the sense we think of today. Very quickly he got into misunderstandings with the movement leaders, including Menachem Begin, mainly because he thought it was allowed to occasionally support the Mapai government’s policies on subjects he understood especially well. Thus for example he supported the policies of the man who became the minister of agriculture, Moshe Dayan. They didn’t like that in Herut, and often called my father “Mapai’s man in Herut” behind his back. He was a revisionist and Betar man in heart and soul, but as a longtime farmer (who continued to work our vineyard even when he was an MK), it was easy for him to identify with the changes that Dayan was trying to implement at the time. In the Herut movement of the fifties and sixties this was an insufferable sin that drastically cut short my father’s political career. It seems to me, and I say this with all the obligatory caution, that if my parents could express their opinion today, they would at least understand my stance and perhaps also agree with it. The term “Jabotinsky’s legacy” stands for something that cannot be ignored, but I was not raised in an atmosphere of extremism. My parents’ home allowed for open-mindedness, and any opinion and position could be expressed there. That’s how I grew up, and that’s how I strived to raise my own children. The opinions of my three brothers – Ami, Yermi and Yossi – are not so different from mine. I think they have also changed from what they were 50 years ago. You would have to be blind to avoid seeing the difficult, complex, complicated reality in which we live. I’m not willing to be blind, and neither are they.
Chapter 2: The Note
On 4 January 2006, I was entrusted with the responsibility of managing the states’ affairs. This was right after the disengagement, with the political system torn apart, the Likud divided, and with me heading Kadima, a party which had only just been established. Ahead of me lay an election campaign, which was to be especially stormy. In addition, the Palestinian legislative elections were to take place at the end of January. At the time we did not know that this would be an event of significant strategic importance, which in time would symbolize the shift in the Palestinian Authority’s division of powers and the rise of Hamas in Gaza.
President Bush has recently published his memoirs, in which he talks about the early days of our acquaintance. Among the details he mentioned, he chose to emphasize the fact that already during our first meeting I had told him in a private conversation that the only suitable solution to the conflict between us and the Palestinians, was the two-state solution. I mention this as yet another indication that the process of change in my views had already developed in 1998, long before the speech at the memorial for Ben-Gurion and the Disengagement.
[Omitted paragraphs about Olmert's first visit to the US as PM]
Later in the visit we dealt primarily with the political agenda. Bush was primarily interested in understanding what my political vision was with regard to Israel, the Palestinians and the political moves. Dubi Veisglass was a central axis throughout the talks. Alongside him were Yoram Turbowitz and Shalom Turjeman, as well as the Military Secretary, Gadi Shamni. We were to hold many further meetings with President Bush, but this meeting was their first too. Later on, Turbowitz became very popular with the president and his men, and they already knew and appreciated Shalom Turjeman from Sharon’s time, but Dubi stole the show. One could not but notice how much the president liked him and the respect showed to him by Secretary of State, Condi Rice. During our subsequent visits, Dubi was already chairman of Bezeq and “Turbo” was in charge along with Turjeman. The baton had been passed to the new team.
The focus of the discussion was the coming negotiations with the Palestinians. Bush wanted to ensure that the “Realignment Plan” as it was called, was not a mere attempt at evading direct negotiations with the Palestinians. I made clear to him that I had no intention of wasting time on preliminary moves and conditions. I also made it clear that Abu Mazen had to be prepared for immediate contacts, for otherwise I would have little choice but to initiate unilateral steps that would affect the stability of the Palestinian Authority and Abu Mazen’s own status. Both the president and his aides, including Condoleezza Rice and National Security Advisor, Steve Hadley, accepted my stand. They understood that a strong desire to begin a new kind of political process was what drove me. We did not try to gain (or lose) time, but rather to engage in serious talks and promote the chance of establishing two states for two peoples. “We must not allow the familiar Palestinian foot-dragging to lead us to a dead-end once again,” I emphasized to them. The president liked it and his aides liked it even better. We knew we had a sympathizing, understating partner.
Throughout the visit, we all shared the feeling that we were not only establishing the facts, but that we were also setting the tone. Every prime minister is well aware of the significance of the first meeting with the president of the United States, and we stayed very focused, making sure nothing went wrong. Failure to properly create the initial personal contact with the president might leave in its wake a long line of difficulties and misunderstandings, for which a heavy political price may have to be paid. We learnt this later the hard way, with a different president in the U.S. and a different prime minister in Israel.
The warm atmosphere, Bush’s friendly hug and then the festive meeting at the two houses of Congress and the long cheers of its members during my speech about our commitment to the war on terror and to the political process, as well as our gratitude for the wonderful friendship extended to us by the U.S – all of the above created the feeling that we were taking the first steps on a path that promised a real chance.
However, a new reality came into being in the area. On June 25, Gilad Shalit was kidnapped and we were forced to retaliate with severe measures against Hamas elements in Gaza. The Air Force struck Gaza repeatedly. They bombarded bases that were used by Hamas, as well as terrorist cells that were on their way to commit terrorist attacks or to launch Qassam rockets.
[Omitted paragraphs – talks about the events between 25 June and 12 July].
The events of 12 July created a new agenda and I will discuss it in detail in the next chapters, but one thing was clear from the start: despite any hopes I may have had of moving the political relations forward shortly, this would have to be postponed to another time. Once again I realized that “man plans and God laughs.” In the Middle East it is essential to plan ahead, but it is no less important to be ready for unexpected events. I hoped to be able to soon return to the routine of activity we had prepared for, but in those moments I had to come up with an adequate response to Nasrallah’s provocation; and so I did.
In mid-August, following the truce in the North, I returned to the question of how to revive the negotiations with the Palestinians. The reality has changed. It was clear to me that our image, following the conflict with Lebanon, would not help in the renewal of political relations, but I was determined to meet Abu Mazen as soon as possible. I instructed all the contact channels we had with the Palestinians to forward him the message that I was willing to talk and that we had a lot to discuss.
For many years, many Israelis have been telling each other – inside and outside the political system – that “the whole world is against us”. This popular phrase has become a good excuse for tough views and for unwillingness to show political flexibility. I have never shared this attitude. When you are convinced that everybody is against you, eventually everybody does turn against you. It was my belief that we had quite a few friends and I tried to the best of my ability to nurture friendship with the countries and leaders that were prepared to listen to us. True, one can easily find daily evidence of displays of hatred towards Israel, some of which express the worst kind of anti-Semitism, but one must not become obsessed with the feeling that the world hates us no matter what. Instead, it is preferable to attempt to change the atmosphere. The Second Lebanon War proved this principle: we exerted significant military power inside an Arab country; hundreds of thousands of people fled their homes; an Arab capital was hit hard. And yet, aside from Syria and Iran, not one country, including Arab and Muslim countries, has publicly criticized Israel. In fact, many Arab countries did not hesitate to harshly criticize radical Islam, and did not take any political – or other – measures against us. Also, the U.S. and the whole of Europe stood by us, publicly and conspicuously.
Two years later, when Operation Cast Lead ended, six prominent leaders of European countries came for a formal visit to Jerusalem: President Sarkozy from France; Chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel; the British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown; the Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi; the Spanish Prime Minister Zapatero; and the temporary president of the European Union, the Czech premier Mirek Topolanek. All of them defended the Israeli action and justified our painful battle against Hamas terrorism. It turns out that it is possible. The world is not automatically against us and we must not develop a mentality of solitude and alienation. When the cause it just and right, our colleagues around the world will stand by us.
In the weeks following the Second Lebanon War, I continued to hold a wide range of international contacts with many European leaders and, of course, with president Bush and his Secretary of State, Condy Rice. Moreover, over the years I have developed a special relationship with Vice-President Dick Cheney. I knew him when he was the secretary of defense in the administration of Bush senior. Even then he was an experienced man, with quite extensive public experience. Cheney, who in the 1970s was White House chief of staff during the administration of late president Gerald Ford, knew how to manage and knew how to coordinate and most of all he knew how to translate his pivotal status into real influence. After Ford lost the elections to Jimmy Carter, Cheney was elected to Congress, where he served for 12 years, and later became secretary of defense in the administration of Bush senior. Afterward he left politics for business and later came back to become Bush junior’s vice-president. Throughout these years we used to meet every year to exchange views, of-course primarily on the Middle East.
My ties with President George Bush and with Cheney, as well as the network of international ties we took trouble to develop, were now exploited fully in order to pressure Abu Mazen into serious political negotiations. I requested all the leaders I have mentioned, and many others, to pressure Abu Mazen to stop avoiding meeting me. We explained over and over to the whole world, that in the absence of direct ties, it would not be possible to advance the political process. I was convinced that nothing could substitute for direct, personal contact between the leaders, and I strove for such contact. I was looking for all possible ways to hold the first meeting as quickly as possible.
Apart from the security officials that have ongoing work relations with Palestinian officials, I had an important asset in my office: my political advisor, Shalom Turjeman.
[Omitted paragraphs, in which he talks about his staff]
On Saturday evening, 25 November, the whole staff met for a team building event at the home of my military secretary, Gadhi Shamni. Hadas, his lovely wife, worked hard to prepare an abundance of refreshments and the whole staff joined in song in a relaxed atmosphere. Around ten o’clock at night, I received a message from the chairman of the Palestinian Authority, indicating that they were ready to announce a comprehensive ceasefire, both at the southern border and at the border between us and the West Bank. Shalom [Turjeman] and Gadi Shamni dealt with the final preparations, from both the political and the military aspects. They drafted an identical announcement concerning the ceasefire that was to be made by the Israeli and by the Palestinian side. The ceasefire was to begin in the early morning hours of the coming day.
The ceasefire was announced, and naturally it created a wave of reactions: Many viewed it as irresponsible. Others saw it as an opportunity. I was among them. Once again, we were now focusing efforts toward holding a direct meeting. It might be of interest to point out that all the attempts that were made by mediators, including senior officials in the American administration, were not particularly successful. In the end, it was a direct telephone conversation between Abu Mazen and me that resulted in scheduling a meeting at the beginning of December 2006. Two days ahead of the meeting, Saeb Erikat informed Shalom Turjeman that they had to postpone it. We were not particularly surprised. With the Palestinians, such matters had always suffered snags of this kind and we were anticipating their request for postponement, being quite used to it. Two further meeting were scheduled, which were also cancelled at the last minute. Finally, a meeting was scheduled for Saturday evening, December 23rd. This time we told ourselves that we would not agree to another postponement. “Enough is enough,” said Turbowitz.
On Friday, December 21st, I completed a long series of consultations with political officials, as well as security officials from the various services. I held extensive meetings with head of the ISA, Yuval Diskin, as well as with head of the Intelligence Corps, head of Mossad and, of course, with my personal staff, who had been long been preparing for the meeting and drafting papers on various issues that were expected to be raised at the meeting.
I assume there will be those who inquire into the reason for such great – maybe even excessive – excitement. After all, many meetings were held with Arafat well before my time, meetings were held with Abu Ala, with Abu Mazen, with all senior officials of the Palestinian Authority – and this is just one more meeting after all.
But I wanted to break this ingrained pattern. I believed then, as I do today, in direct negotiations with the Palestinians. I believe there is no alternative to it. I did not want this meeting to be just one more in a series of such meetings, to be crossed off a list. I had waited for it a long while and I did not want it to fall through.
On Friday, on the eve of the meeting, Shalom Turjeman called to inform me that Saeb Erikat had just contacted him a few minutes ago informing him that something very important had occurred and consequently Abu Mazen had to postpone the meeting once again, and wished to talk with me.
“Turbo” spoke with me on the other line. “Under no circumstances are you to agree to postpone the meeting; even if you have to talk with him for eight hours, don’t agree to postpone. If this meeting is postponed too, we will never see him,” he said.
“Turbo”, was right as always, but I did not exactly know how to force Abu Mazen to come to the meeting if he did not want to.
“Tell him it’s a matter of honor. Tell him it’s personal,” said “Turbo”.
On Friday afternoon I spoke with Abu Mazen. He apologized and said he would not make it to the meeting. We started arguing. I told him it was critical that he come and he maintained that he had no choice. I insisted that the meeting was critical and he insisted that he had no choice.
During our conversation, “Turbo” passed me a note, reminding me that I must not give up. It was obvious that he was concerned.
I was amused.
“Relax, Turbo,” I said to myself, “I haven’t played the honor card yet.”
I returned to my conversation with Abu Mazen. He continued with his excuses and I continued applying pressure. Then, I drew the ultimate weapon: “If you cancel the visit,” I said, “it would be a great blow to me and my men, but I can cope with this. Just tell me what I am supposed to tell my wife who has been on her feet for 24 hours just to cook your favorite dishes. I don’t care that you hurt me, but why my wife?”
After a short silence, Abu Mazen replied: “I don’t want to hurt your wife. I will come to the meeting tomorrow.”
I did not forget to thank Aliza for her contribution to the renewal of the contacts.
Many people in Israel and abroad have asked me the reason why the Palestinians continued to negotiate with me even after the Second Lebanon War and Operation Cast Lead. The simple answer was that I treated them with respect.
Right at that first meeting, I ordered the Palestinian flag to be hung on the roof of the prime minister’s residence, side-by-side with the Israeli flag. Indeed, this is customary for every meeting between heads of states, but the Palestinian state has not yet been established and never before was the Palestinian flag hung during a formal event in Israel, let alone at the prime minister’s residence. Ahead of the meeting, I asked “Turbo” and Shalom to wait for Abu Mazen near the crossing in Baituniya. From there, the Palestinians drove in a convoy that was lead by police cars with wailing sirens and flashing lights, lending the event an air of stateliness. I awaited Abu Mazen at the entrance of the prime minister’s residence, and addressed him as “Mister President”. The Israeli and Palestinian flags stood in a corner of the lobby and we both posed for a mutual photo that was immediately sent to all the TV networks. The Israeli and Palestinian flags also stood side-by-side on the dining table.
Some may think that this series of gestures was excessive, but that is just a sign that they fail to understand something fundamental about the Middle East. My aides and I believed that we were living in a world in which symbols and images carry no less weight than contents. It was immediately apparent to us that these gestures surprised our guests and gave them much satisfaction.
The primary goal of the first meeting was to create a relaxed atmosphere that would enable us to continue with a series of steady meetings. At the beginning, the conversation was not focused on any one topic, and then came the requests. The Palestinians always have a string of requests on such occasions, most of which stem from the constraints and difficulties in the everyday life of a population living under military rule. Abu Mazen started presenting his requests and we, having prepared for each of them, were ready with the answers, which we knew would surprise the Palestinians. At first, they asked for the release of Palestinian prisoners. I agreed at once, but made it clear to Abu Mazen that I was willing to release only prisoners without blood on their hands. Later we spoke about easing restrictions at the crossings, especially those between villages in the West Bank. We promised to consider a series of relief measures. Finally, Abu Mazen got to the main issue: money. They asked for the release of their tax revenues that had been frozen for a long time by our customs authorities. Israel refused to deliver these funds, fearing that terrorist elements would use them to buy weapons. It was agreed that all the money that would be delivered to them, would be deposited in accounts held by Salam Fayyad, who we also viewed as a trustworthy, responsible person. As long as he was controlling the money, there was no fear of it reaching Hamas. Moreover, we knew this money would enable the Palestinian Authority to prove that only it had the means to assist the population.
“How much money do you need?” I asked Abu Mazen.
It was clear that he was tense. We were later told by the Palestinians that before they left for the meeting, they had a serious argument about how much to ask for. Saeb Erikat, who had the most experience in negotiating with us, said that there was no chance of my agreeing to more than NIS ten million and that they should not risk humiliation by asking for more. In response, Abu Mazen said that if Saeb was right, then why not embarrass me and ask for much more.
“We need 50 million,” he said.
“Yes,” he replied.
“Something here seems unreasonable to me,” I replied.
“I knew it,” he replied; “You will never agree to give us what we truly deserve.”
“Mr. President,” I said, “my experience has taught me that you do not disclose the sums you really need. According to our calculations, you need $100 million and we are prepared to deliver you this sum immediately.”
The room fell into total silence. It would have been possible to hear a pin drop on that winter evening in Jerusalem. The Palestinians were shocked.
“Do you mean $100 million?” asked Abu Mazen slowly.
“It is your money,” I replied, “and you need it to help your population. If you will need more, we will make an attempt to deliver it you.”
In my view, there was no witticism or even generosity involved in my response. I was simply trying to make it clear to them that we had no intention of playing games in the negotiations or of dragging our feet, but rather meant to lay the foundation for serious discussions. In time, I was told that later that evening, when Abu Mazen entered the presidential Mercedes that took him to Ramallah, he turned to the person next to him and said: “We are on the verge of a completely new era. This is different from anything we’ve seen before.”
Chapter 3: Over One ‘E’
The military campaign in Lebanon was over, the first meeting with Abu Mazen was successful, and we hoped that we could begin accelerated negotiations with the Palestinians. However, the Palestinians and the Americans kept reminding me that Israel was failing to meet its obligation to clear the outposts.
I did not deny the government’s commitment – it was clear and unequivocal – but during my conversations with President Bush and the Secretary of State I wondered out loud if fulfilling this commitment, just as we were making an effort to commence negotiations, was a smart move. It was clear to me that every additional evacuation (after the difficult and painful clash one year prior, during the evacuation of Amona) would entail a confrontation that could easily develop into a violent incident. If there would be bloody confrontations between the security forces and the settlers, nobody would talk about peace, but only about the fact that we were heading toward civil war. The settlers would declare a “national catastrophe” and would react as they always do – by building more outposts. “I am serious,” I told the Americans over and over again. “In the framework of a peace agreement I am prepared to withdraw from almost all the Territories, but in order for me to do so, I need some quiet.” The last thing we needed was a series of violent confrontations inside Israel while we were negotiating. “And besides,” I explained to them, “if we reach an agreement, most of the outposts will anyway be within the Territories that will be evacuated.” I also added that I did not wish to go through daily battles over building additions in existing communities and certainly not in Jerusalem neighborhoods, which were undoubtedly part of Israel and would always remain so.
The Americans made things difficult for me, and so did the Palestinians, of course. I told them very simply that if I had to choose between freezing construction and a serious negotiation process that may lead to an agreement, I preferred the second option. It took some time, but eventually the Americans understood, even if they did not commit to support the continuation of the construction. They only requested that we not try to expand the communities artificially. “Don’t try to turn Ma’aleh Adumim into Los Angeles,” a very senior American official said to me. I accepted this stand and made sure I abide by it throughout my tenure.
Many discussions focused on the area referred to as E1, which connects Jerusalem and Ma’aleh Adumim. The Palestinians have expressed particular concern over this area and claimed that construction in it could block the land continuity between Bethlehem and Ramallah.
I promised the Americans that with the exception of one police station, whose construction was about to be completed, there would be no construction in that area during the negotiations. Nevertheless, I made it clear both to them and to the Palestinians that Israel would not agree to include this area among the Territories that were to be evacuated in the future and that it would always be an inseparable part of the State of Israel. “There is no chance that we would ever withdraw from Ma’aleh Adumim, nor will we let it become an enclave within the Palestinian state,” I stressed over and over again.
This was a highly detailed discussion, but God – both the Jews’ and the Arabs’ – is in the details. It was clear that there would be construction in the Territories and in Jerusalem, and it was clear that the Americans and Palestinians would disapprove, but there was also a silent acceptance (with much talk in the background) that if we kept our word, negotiations would continue.” “Turbo” and Shalom Turjeman told the Palestinians and the Americans that they should use Google Earth to establish what the situation was in the Territories, including Jerusalem, so that they could detect any changes made on the ground. It was simple, but effective. Only when the government switched in Israel, on April 2009, and the Obama administration took office in America, the question of the construction freeze in the West Bank became a dispute the whole world focused on. I believe it was a grave mistake, and I was sorry to hear that the American administration was dragged into this trap. It may be, that if the Israeli government had formed – immediately after its inception – a practical political plan, instead of dragging itself into an unnecessary dispute over the two-state vision, we might have spared ourselves quite a bit of grief and serious damage to our international image. If one really wants to deal with the main issues, it is easy to do so. If not, there will always be something that would hinder the talks. My government made it possible to build in the Territories, on a limited scale, and, most importantly, out in the open. The Americans were dissatisfied and the Palestinians mumbled denunciations, but the negotiations continued unabated.
Meanwhile, dramatic events took place on the Palestinian side. In early 2007, the Arab League convened in Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia. At the end of its discussions, the Arab League has once again ratified the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, but this time it decided to also force the Palestinian leadership into establishing a national unity government. In other words, the moderate Arab countries – which feared a violent clash between Fatah and Hamas that would strengthen the radical elements within their own countries – have decided to bring this murderous terrorist organization into the governmental circle. I was disappointed. This was a significant departure from the expectations we had regarding the process and I felt that Abu Mazen had lost his power. If already at this stage Abu Mazen was lacking the leadership authority to enforce his will upon the moderate Arab elements, maybe my pessimist partners were right and we actually had nobody to talk with on the other side. The Arab countries are always making the same mistake: on the one hand they encourage the negotiations, while at the same time they contribute a lot to stop its progress. I made it clear to Abu Mazen that if Hamas turned into part of the Palestinian rule, we would have to put limitations on the nature of relationship with his administration. We were not the only ones disappointed. I have solid reason to assume that most of the European countries, the Quartet, the U.N. and especially the U.S. and President Bush, were disappointed and frustrated. Some of them told me that straightforwardly. They suspected all along that Abu Mazen lacked the personal strength to resist the pressures of the Muslim World’s radical elements, and now this suspicion was apparently becoming a reality.
Chapter 4: Decision-Making Days
While we were celebrating Passover in the year 5768 , I already started thinking about the schedule for the end of the negotiations. But then, events occurred that would change my agenda, as well as that of the government and of the entire country.
[Omitted paragraphs dealing with the police investigation against Olmert].
I continued to meet with the Palestinian leader and we continued to talk, but there were no great changes. Things were repeating themselves. Over and over again we dealt with the issue of Jerusalem; over and over again we mentioned the problem of the refugees, as well as the Arab peace initiative, the security needs and the territorial borders. He kept going back to the location of the city of Ariel. He once told me that Ariel was important because it controlled the adjacent mountain aquifer, which was to become the Palestinian Authority’s main source of water. I answered him that, objectively speaking, one might say that Ariel’s location was not the best and that it was planted too deeply in the heart of the Palestinian territory, but there was no chance that it would be evacuated and I was not about to agree to it. “If water is your concern,” I told him, “then we will build desalination facilities for you that will supply all the needs of the Palestinian state, but there is no chance that Ariel will be evacuated and I will not agree to it.” Instead of answering me, he complained again about the location, on which the city was built. My patience ran out. I told him “Suppose this is all true and you are right. The question we must now answer is: what can we do now, and not what we could have done forty years ago.”
Abu Mazen did not respond. As usual, he held his cards close to his chest and would let me know if he was willing to compromise. It was obvious that the Palestinians would regard Ariel as a bone of contention until the very last moment. I did not anticipate that we would go back to this issue before the rest of the problems were solved.
All our lives in this beloved and tormented land we have been talking about the dream of full peace with our neighbors. Sometimes these words sound sincere and express deep feelings of longing for peace and quiet and security. At other times, we repeat these things automatically, without being willing to admit to ourselves the inevitable price we’d have to pay. I knew my decision time was approaching. I thought about how our whole lives could change if we had the courage to take one more decisive step. I thought about the fact that peace would bring peace and quiet to the people of Israel for the first time in over a hundred years. I thought of the grandchildren – my own and those of my friends – and about the future we must shape for them. I dreamt of growth and prosperity; of the proper utilization of the vast energies latent within Israeli society; and of relations with countries that have never recognized us.
Back in those days it was rather difficult to arrange meetings with Abu Mazen. He habitually traveled a lot around the world. We held meetings in August and we were finally scheduled to meet on Tuesday, September 16th at the prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem. As usual, we began with lunch, but soon enough we retired to my study for a private meeting which, as far as I was concerned, was supposed to be decisive. I came prepared to the meeting. A few days earlier I had sat with a cartographer, whose integrity I trusted completely, and I instructed him to prepare a map of Israel and the territories that were under Israel’s control in Judea and Samaria. I gave him clear instruction: the map had to include all the blocks of Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria that would extend across 6.3% of the entire territory. At the same time, territories totaling 5.8% inside the State of Israel that would be received by the Palestinians in return for the settlements blocks were to be marked on the map. The territories that were meant to be exchanged extended across different regions, from the north of Israel to the Judean desert, including a region adjacent to the Gaza Strip.
During the meeting with Abu Mazen that map was put next to us, folded on the table.
I began by presenting the principles of the arrangement that I was proposing:
1. A territorial solution between Israel and the Palestinian state would be based upon the 1967 borders, with the exchange of territories (I promised him I would show him my proposed map later).
2. The territories that were demilitarized before 1967 would be equally divided between us and them, with the percentages that I mentioned before already included in this division.
3. The Jewish neighborhoods, which were built in Jerusalem after the Six Day War, would remain under the sovereignty of the State of Israel. At this point, too, I mentioned that the 6.3% percent that I had referred to at the beginning would include all the territory upon which the new Jewish neighborhoods in the city were built.
4. The Arab neighborhoods, which are included today within the territory of the city of Jerusalem, would become part of the Palestinian state that would be established following the agreement. This part of the city would be considered, if they desired, as the capital of the Palestinian state.
5. The “holy basin,” that part of the city of Jerusalem that is sacred to all three monotheistic religions, including the Old City, would be defined as a territory under the trusteeship of five countries: Saudi Arabia, the Jordanian Kingdom, the Palestinian state, Israel and the United States. The entire area would remain open for free entrance to worshippers of all faiths and the five countries would be responsible for setting the procedures, regulations and arrangements that would apply to the area’s residents and visitors.
6. Israel would agree to absorb Palestinians within its borders on an individual and humanitarian basis, and on the basis of family reunifications. I explained to Abu Mazen that Arab families could sometimes comprise tens of thousands and that was not my meaning. Each year, over the course of five years, one thousand Palestinians that Israel would be willing to accept, will be absorbed. I added that a condition to this agreement was a written commitment by the Palestinians, that after this they would have no more demands and that this agreement would constitute an end to the conflict between the parties. This commitment, I stressed, was an essential part of the entire proposal. In this matter, I made it clear that in the agreement to be signed, there would be an explicit declaration that this sensitive part was implemented in accordance with the spirit of the Arab peace initiative. I also asserted that in the written version there would be a declaration that Israel was sensitive to the suffering caused to the Palestinian people, some of whom were uprooted from their homes as a result of the violent conflict that has prevailed between us and them for so many years. I added that similar things would clearly be said about the tremendous suffering that was caused to the citizens of Israel and to the Jewish people as a result of the continuous wars that have been part of our lives for so many years.
7. The parties would cooperate with international entities that will finance a monetary fund, which will provide generous compensation to Palestinians, Jews and Israelis, who have suffered from the wars in this region. It was clear to both of us that this would be a fund that Israel would be prepared to act to establish, but that its budget would come from other countries with financial means and the desire to contribute to ending the conflict.
8. Israel would agree to connect the Gaza Strip and the West Bank with a 40-km tunnel, the entrances and exits of which would be under Palestinian control. For safety and security reasons, there would be gates placed along the tunnel and in case of an exceptional security event or a car accident, it would be possible to open or close them.
9. The relative portion of the Dead Sea, which is adjacent to the borders of the Palestinian state, would be under their sovereignty. That portion would not include the Dead Sea’s factories, the tourism area and the Israeli hotels.
In addition to these principles, I stressed that Israel had a number of fundamental demands that would be an integral part of the agreement:
1. No [Palestinian] military forces would be allowed inside the Palestinian state. The Palestinians would be able to maintain security forces within their own state for the purpose of law enforcement (during our conversations the Palestinians agreed several times to this condition).
2. The border between the Palestinian state and Jordan will not enable free passage and there will be military presence in it (I did not specify in what manner will the border be blocked and by which military force. I dealt a lot with this issue, in coordination with various elements, but I thought that at that stage it would not be appropriate to specify how this will be executed).
3. Israel and the Palestinians, in cooperation with the United States, will set the procedures that would ensure no foreign army could enter the territory of the Palestinian state and that in case of an invasion into the Palestinian state, Israel would have the right to defend itself even beyond the agreed border line between us.
That was the proposal. It was preceded by long discussions with the United States, during which we reached an agreement about the security principles we defined as essential. These principles were designed by the IDF’s Planning Branch GHQ, approved by Defense Minister Ehud Barak and even presented to the American president during his visit to Israel on May 14, 2008. The American president expressed his support for these principles and reiterated his support during my last state visit to the U.S. in November 2008. We reached an agreement with the president that all the points pertaining to Israel’s security would be brought to the knowledge of the new administration of president-elect Obama. We included a clause in the security principles prohibiting the Palestinian state from signing military treaties with countries that did not maintain full diplomatic relations with Israel, our right to defend ourselves from any terrorist attacks without limitations and, of course, freedom of action in the Palestinian state’s airspace and control over the West Bank’s electromagnetic space.
After I finished, Abu Mazen sighed deeply, and asked to see the map that I had prepared. I spread the folded map on the wooden table between us and showed it to the Palestinian president. He asked me many questions about the territories proposed for exchanged and repeated that the problem of the city of Ariel was very difficult. However, he agreed that the proposal was very interesting. I showed him on the map all the solutions we found, that were meant to ensure the territorial continuity of the Palestinian state, including the passages between the parts of the city of Jerusalem and the continuous connection between Judea and Samaria.
Abu Mazen looked at me, and I looked at him. He was silent. It never occurred to me that the proposal I had presented to had not impressed him. Never before had any Israeli prime minister presented such a crystallized and detailed proposal for resolving the conflict as the one presented to him that day. He knew and understood that this plan gave a serious, responsible and genuine response to all the substantive issues that had been the basis for the Palestinian demands since the end of the Six Day War.
I am now describing things in dry language, as if this was only one more meeting between the two of us, but that wasn’t how I felt. 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 I was doing the right thing, the weight on my shoulders was very heavy. It is much easier to write these things in retrospect than to say them to the leader of an entity that was the cruelest enemy of my state and my people since we began to fight for our right to establish the Jewish state. All the fears, longings and hopes were poured into the little chamber in which we sat and I was assigned to represent our magnificent nation and the hope that maybe from here, from this modest study in the quiet Jerusalem neighborhood of Rehavia, would come tidings that would be a turning point in the life of this tormented nation and country. When I think about it today, I sometimes wonder how I overcame all the doubts that I harbored in my heart and in my mind for such a long time. I do not have a real answer that could summarize that event from my standpoint. I could only say that there are such times in the life of a person who bears the supreme responsibility for the life of a country.
I know that my image is not that of an emotional person. I cannot, nor do I wish to argue about that. But at that moment – although I maintained a perfectly practical facial expression and conducted the conversation in the same practical tone in which negotiations are conducted – I felt the excitement in me. There are moments, not many, which are permanently engraved in a person’s consciousness: it is not an easy thing to send young soldiers and fighters on dangerous missions from which they may not return alive. More than once I authorized covert operations, even though I knew that failure would be disastrous. Thank God, they succeeded. This time, the feelings were more complicated. I remembered the things I, myself, had said many times about Jerusalem and how dangerous it would be to divide it. The things I had said about the disasters that might befall us if we divided the country rang in my ears. This time, everything was different. I did not have to make a speech in front of an excited crowd or persuade voters. This time, I spoke with my conscience.
Abu Mazen did not allow me to indulge in my dreams. He told me he could not decide immediately and that he needed time. I told him he was making a 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 the option of not wrapping things up. Even in 50 years there will be no Israeli government that would offer you what I have offered.” I saw that he was agonizing, too. In the end he said to me, “Give me a few days. I don’t know my way around maps. I suggest that Saeb Erikat and Shalom Turjeman will meet tomorrow 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.” We called Erikat and Turjeman to the room and they agreed to meet tomorrow with the experts in order to conclude the agreement.
The next day Erikat called Turjeman and said that Abu Mazen had forgotten that they needed to be in Amman that day. He asked to postpone the meeting by a week.
I haven’t met with Abu Mazen since then. The map stayed with me.
We were very close, more than any other time in the past, to completing an agreement of principles that would have led to the end of the conflict between us and the Palestinians. I am writing these chapters, not because former premiers traditionally write their memoirs, but because we are still stuck in this mess and it will continue to bring misery to our lives and threaten our existence, unless we gather the courage to end it. We can, and must achieve peace. No trick or deliberate delay from either our side or theirs, will exempt us from the awful price of lack of peace. There are times in which history requires us to make hard, heartbreaking decisions. I did not want to evade this responsibility and I pray that the leadership that replaced me will be courageous enough to make them.
About the author
Jennifer Hanin must love Israel. She spends her days advocating for the Jewish State she has never stepped foot in. Besides her passion for Israel and its people, she is an award-winning writer, influential blogger, and critically acclaimed author of What to Do When You Can’t Get Pregnant: the Complete Guide to All the Technologies for Couples Facing Fertility Problems (Da Capo, 2005). Newsweek (July 4, 2005) recommended Jennifer’s book as one to buy when undergoing fertility treatments. Jennifer's most recent highly acclaimed book is Becoming Jewish: The Challenges, Rewards and Paths to Conversion (Rowman & Littlefield, September 2011). JTA ranked Jennifer @jennhanin as #38 on their 100 Most Influential Jewish Twitter Users for 2010, and #10 in the category of Politics and Policy. She also won Shorty Awards in the categories of Religion and Judaism in 2009. She has appeared on television and radio to discuss her book and blog, and her blog has generated interest from every continent except Antarctica. Editors have translated her work into Dutch, Russian, Portuguese, Chinese, Spanish, French and Arabic.