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The NY Times Magazine's False Cover Story exposed by Sol Stern

UPDATE: It has just come to my attention that an article which appeared in The Australian in January 2009 completely confirms Sol Stern’s analysis of the Bernard Avishai article. Written by the paper’s foreign  editor, Greg Sheridan, it relates what he was told by the former Israeli PM while he visited Sydney that month.

According to what Ehud Olmert told Sheridan, the fault for his proposals going nowhere lay entirely with the Palestinians. Sheridan called his interview the longest undertaken by Olmert with any media since he had left office.

Sheridan asked Olmert “to compare the failure of Abbas to conclude a peace agreement with him, with the opportunity Yasser Arafat passed up at Camp  David in 2000.” Olmert responded that while Arafat “never wanted to make peace with Israel,” and was a “murderer and terrorist,” Abbas “wants peace.” He stressed that Netanyahu also does and  “is not an obstacle to peace,” but is rightfully “worried about security.”

“Olmert’s term in office,” Sheridan writes, “is best remembered for the extensive negotiations, and final peace offer that he undertook with Abbas.” He continues to write that “Olmert explains this position to me in unprecedented detail. Can the Palestinian leadership ever accept any offer that an Israeli prime minister could ever reasonably make?”

The first thing that is clear is that Avishai has produced an article with nothing new in it. How could the editors at the NYT not know about this article, which a simple Google search or Lexis/Nexis search would have immediately revealed? Here is what Sheridan writes:

It is important to get Olmert's full account of this offer on the record: "From the end of 2006 until the end of 2008 I think I met with Abu Mazen more often than any Israeli leader has ever met any Arab leader. I met him more than 35 times. They were intense, serious negotiations."

These negotiations took place on two tracks, Olmert says. One was the meetings with the two leaders and their senior colleagues and aides (among them Kadima leader Tzipi Livni on Olmert's side). But Olmert would also have private, one-on-one meetings with Abbas.

"On the 16th of September, 2008, I presented him (Abbas) with a comprehensive plan. It was based on the following principles.

One, there would be a territorial solution to the conflict on the basis of the 1967 borders with minor modifications on both sides. Israel will claim part of the West Bank where there have been demographic changes over the last 40 years.”

This approach by Olmert would have allowed Israel to keep the biggest Jewish settlement blocks which are mainly now suburbs of Jerusalem, but would certainly have entailed other settlers having to leave Palestinian territory and relocate to Israel.

In total, Olmert says, this would have involved Israel claiming about 6.4 per cent of Palestinian territory in the West Bank: "It might be a fraction more, it might be a fraction less, but in total it would be about 6.4 per cent. Israel would claim all the Jewish areas of Jerusalem. All the lands that before 1967 were buffer zones between the two populations would have been split in half. In return there would be a swap of land (to the Palestinians) from Israel as it existed before 1967.

So what happened as a result? Here is what Olmert told Sheridan, a conclusion that is a bombshell, because it is the refutation of everything in the NYT Magazine article:

Olmert says he showed Abbas a map, which embodied all these plans. Abbas wanted to take the map away. Olmert agreed, so long as they both signed the map. It was, from Olmert's point of view, a final offer, not a basis for future negotiation. But Abbas could not commit. Instead, he said he would come with experts the next day.

"He (Abbas) promised me the next day his adviser would come. But the next day Saeb Erekat rang my adviser and said we forgot we are going to Amman today, let's make it next week. I never saw him again."

Olmert told Abbas that this was a major opportunity. He told him: ‘This is the offer. Sign it and we can immediately get support from America, from Europe, from all over the world.’ I told him he’d never get anything like this again from an Israeli leader for 50 years.” Olmert added that we should today ask Abbas to respond to this plan, and if they refuse, “there’s no point negotiating.”

Sheridan asks: “If the Palestinian leadership cannot accept this offer, can they accept any realistic offer? Do they have the machinery to run a state? Is their society too dysfunctional and filled with anti-Semitic propaganda to live in peace next to the Jewish state?” He asked these questions of Olmert, who reiterated that “I never received a positive response from them. I think it’s up to them to prove the point.”

So I ask the editors of the New York Times Magazine the following question. How come you did not know about this lengthy interview, which contradicts all of Avishai’s claims? If you did know about the Sheridan interview with Olmert, is it not the Times’ responsibility to let its readers know about what Olmert had told him, in as great a detail as anything he said later to Bernard Avishai?

We are waiting for an answer.