Former Israeli premier Ehud Olmert said on Sunday the United States had agreed to accept 100 000 Palestinian refugees within the framework of an eventual Middle East peace deal, media reported.
Washington had agreed to absorb and give citizenship to 100 000 refugees, while Israel would accept less than 20 000, Israeli media quoted Olmert as telling a conference.
“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,” the Ynet website quoted him as saying.
Olmert was speaking at a conference in Tel Aviv organised by the Geneva Initiative, an Israeli-Palestinian group that aims to show a peace accord is possible.
The former prime minister held peace talks with the Palestinians from November 2007 until they collapsed when Israel began its devastating military 22-day offensive against the Islamist-ruled Gaza Strip just over a year later.
“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 was reported as saying.
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.
According to Haaretz, “Olmert also said that the U.S. administration under Bush had accepted the ‘eight-point document’ drafted by Israel’s defense establishment, which included Israel’s central security interests.”
“Bush promised to pass this along to the Obama administration,” Olmert said. “The Palestinians recognized this document and they were not opposed to a single one of its points.”
The issue of Palestinian refugees is expected to be one of the thorniest issues in the renewed direct Israeli-Palestinian peace talks that resumed in the United States at the beginning of the month.
The Palestinians want Israel to recognise the “right of return” of the Palestinians who fled or were expelled when the Jewish state was created in 1948. With their descendants, they number 4.7 million people.
Israel rejects the demand, saying they should be accommodated within a Palestinian state.