While we were all distracted by Egypt, the NY Times Magazine published an in-depth look at the Abbas-Olmert peace talks.
Before the publication of the Palestine papers, Israeli journalist Bernard Avishai interviewed the principle players, Mahmoud Abbas and Ehud Olmert independently; both confirmed they were remarkably close to a peace deal.
THE ISSUES THAT were supposed to be intractable — demilitarization of the Palestinian state, the status of Jerusalem and the right of return of Palestinian refugees — proved susceptible to creative thinking. Even on borders, Olmert and Abbas were able to agree on fundamentals: a desire to disrupt as few lives as possible and to maximize the contiguity (and therefore the economic possibility) of Palestinian cities. “We didn’t waste a minute during our months of negotiation,” Abbas said.
There will no doubt be plenty of conversation on both sides whether the near-agreements Avishai describes were visionary, reckless, or something in-between. Read the story and judge for yourself.
But there’s another element; the accounts Abbas and Olmert provide demolish the PaliLeak thesis that Israel wasn’t a serious partner for peace talks:
Each told me that if new violence breaks out in Palestine, as seems quite likely, historians will look back with a sense of pathos on how narrow and, in some key areas, trivial the gaps were. “We were very close,” Olmert told me, “more than ever in the past, to complete an agreement on principles that would have led to the end of the conflict between us and the Palestinians.” Abbas said the talks produced more “creative ideas” than any in the past. He took pains to assure me that he had been most flexible on Israel’s security demands. Olmert, in retrospect, agrees, saying that Abbas “had never said no.” Olmert insisted that he had conceded to Abbas every major demand Palestinians had made for decades: a border based scrupulously on the 1967 lines, a Palestinian capital in Jerusalem and “recognition of the problem” of refugees.