Did Israel offer the Palestinians a “great” deal?

Thomas Friedman is wrong: the “two-state” deal offered to Palestinian President Abbas by former Israeli Prime Minister Olmert was anything but “great”

Thomas Friedman is a hack. But he is an influential hack. So maybe it is worthwhile rebutting a familiar claim he made in his recent column.

Friedman is very angry at Netanyahu, for rebuffing Obama’s request for three more months of settlement freeze. For some reason, however, he feels compelled to “balance” this with criticism of Netanyahu’s Palestinian counterpart, Mahmoud Abbas. Since the circumstances really are different, Friedman dredges up another affair entirely, arguing that former Israeli Prime Minister Olmert offered Abbas “a great two-state deal, including East Jerusalem” and Abbas supposedly “let it fritter away”.

Shamefully, I have to admit I really never looked into Olmert’s offer to Abbas. I see this claim all the time, so maybe, I wondered, the offer really was “great”? So I looked it up. On borders, you can read the written story here, and view the map here. What little there is on Jerusalem can be read here. It is all leaks, but I have not seen any reporting from Friedman indicating that he knows anything else, so I assume that this is the deal he is calling “great”.

In Israel and the US, it is common to judge such proposals by the level of their “generosity” towards Palestinians. A bad offer is “too generous” (usually) or “not generous enough” (rarely). This is both condescending and foolish. The point of peacemaking is not to placate the Palestinians just enough so that they would be quiet and leave Israel alone. A “great” deal would be one that is workable and sustainable over the long term for the two nations that occupy the area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean.

By that measure, Olmert’s offer is a farce. It looks like a series of crazily gerrymandered electoral districts, and in fact, that is exactly what it is. The logic behind it is demographic: to annex as many Jewish settlers to Israel as possible, leaving as few Palestinians as possible. In order to do that, it destroys local and regional fabrics, with absurd consequences.

The city of Qalqilyah, with 42,000 residents, is virtually cut off from the rest of the West Bank. The Northern and Southern halves of the West Bank are connected only through the remote town of Jericho, or through East Jerusalem, supposedly “included” in the deal, but in fact, turned into a nightmare tapestry completely dominated by Jewish towns and neighborhoods.

Even if Abbas had signed an agreement along these lines (assuming it had answered difficult questions about water or Palestinian refugees) it would not have mattered. This deal would never have worked, and it was anything but “great”. Amusingly, Friedman attacks both sides for avoiding difficult choices, while, in the same breath, he praises an offer which had only one purpose: to avoid Israel’s truly difficult choice.