Jonathan, I agree that the failure of the year-long final status negotiations in 2008 demonstrates that even “moderate” Palestinian leaders are unable to make peace — even when given an offer that, as you write, was “unprecedented” and reflected a “terrible deal” from the standpoint of Israeli security and Jewish rights.
The New York Times article states Olmert recounts that his last meeting with Abbas occurred on September 16, 2008, at which time he presented his map to Abbas, told him to “take the pen and sign now,” argued he would “never get an offer that is fairer or more just,” and said Abbas was making a “historic mistake” if he didn’t sign on the spot. Abbas asked to meet the following day, then called and asked for a week postponement, and then never responded to Olmert’s offer and never met with Olmert again.
The Times notes that, by the time of the September 16 meeting, “Olmert was mired in corruption investigations” and “resigned days later.” It seems obvious that the Olmert offer was made by an Israeli prime minister on the verge of indictment, desperate to get a peace proposal signed within days, hoping it might change his political and legal fortunes. Condoleezza Rice urged the Palestinians to accept the Olmert offer, but they told her they doubted Olmert had the political influence to implement it, even though he would remain in office for months until new elections were held.
The following year, the Palestinians were offered new negotiations, with no preconditions, by Benjamin Netanyahu — the one Israeli prime minister with the stature necessary to assure political approval of any peace deal. They knew they would not get an offer from him as good as Olmert’s, since Netanyahu would insist on Palestinian recognition of a Jewish state and demilitarization arrangements that did not depend on third parties. But it would be an offer under the only conditions that could assure acceptance across the Israeli political spectrum.
And the Palestinians responded by refusing to negotiate, establishing preconditions and seeking pre-negotiation assurances of an even better offer than the dangerous one Olmert had made — and that they had failed to accept. But it is not likely they will receive even the Olmert offer again; given the circumstances under which it was made, they will not likely get the opportunity to miss that opportunity again.