The Palestinian president, in a remarkable assessment delivered on Israeli TV, said Friday the Arab world erred in rejecting the United Nations' 1947 plan to partition Palestine into a Palestinian and a Jewish state.
The Palestinian and Arab refusal to accept the U.N. plan to partition the then-British-controlled mandate of Palestine sparked widespread fighting, then Arab military intervention after Israel declared independence the following year. The Arabs lost the war.
"It was our mistake. It was an Arab mistake as a whole," Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told Channel 2 TV in a rare interview with the Israeli media. "But do they (the Israelis) punish us for this mistake 64 years?
Abbas also addressed his negotiations with former Israeli leader Ehud Olmert, now in the spotlight because of the publication of the memoirs of former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
Rice backs Israel's account that Olmert made a peace offer that was rejected, while Palestinians say talks never actually reached a point where a firm offer was on the table.
Abbas claimed that he and Olmert were "very close" to reaching a peace agreement in 2008, before the Israeli leader left office amid corruption allegations.
"It was a very good opportunity," he said. "If he stayed two, three months, I believe in that time we could have concluded an agreement."
He confirmed Olmert's account that the Israeli leader was prepared to withdraw from 93.5 percent of the West Bank. The Palestinians, he added, responded by offering to let Israel retain 1.9 percent of the West Bank.
In her forthcoming book, "No Higher Honor," excerpted in Newsweek this week, Rice claims that the Palestinians rejected Olmert's proposal.
Rice said Olmert proposed in a May 2008 conversation with her to cede about 94 percent of the West Bank, and to share sovereignty over the disputed holy city of Jerusalem and put an international body in charge of its religious shrines.
In its waning days, Rice wrote, the administration of President George W. Bush tried one last time to wrest a peace deal: "To have an Israeli prime minister on record offering those remarkable elements and a Palestinian president accepting them would have pushed the peace process to a new level. Abbas refused."
In their last meeting before Bush left office in December 2008, "The President took Abbas into the Oval Office alone and appealed to him to reconsider. The Palestinian stood firm, and the idea died," Rice wrote.