Israeli proposal: Leave West Bank settlements, bases intact
Ramallah, West Bank • Israel has proposed leaving intact dozens of Jewish settlements and military bases in the West Bank as part of a package to establish a Palestinian state in provisional borders, a Palestinian official told The Associated Press on Wednesday, in the first detailed glimpse at recently relaunched peace talks.
The official said the proposal is unacceptable to the Palestinians, underscoring the tough road ahead as the sides try to reach an agreement ending decades of conflict.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity because Israel and the Palestinians have pledged to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry not to discuss the content of their talks with the media a pledge that has largely held up until now.
For their future state, the Palestinians seek the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza Strip, territories captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war.
With Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opposed to a return to the pre-1967 lines, the idea of a Palestinian state in temporary borders has gained appeal with the Israelis. Such a deal could give the Palestinians independence, while leaving the thorniest issues, such as the fate of Jerusalem and the status of millions of Palestinian refugees and their descendants, to later negotiations. The Palestinians reject any notion of a provisional agreement, fearing that a temporary arrangement that falls short of their dreams will become permanent.
Talks resumed in late July after a nearly five-year break stemming largely from Israeli settlement construction. The Palestinians have objected to Israeli construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. The Palestinians say these settlements, now home to more than 500,000 Israelis, make it increasingly difficult to partition the land between two people.
After months of U.S. mediation, the Palestinians agreed to resume talks. Although Israel did not pledge to freeze settlement construction, U.S. officials have said they expect both sides to avoid provocative moves. Negotiators have been quietly meeting once or twice a week for the past month or so.
The Palestinian official said formal talks on borders have not yet started, and that negotiations have focused on security matters. He said the Israelis want to retain control of the West Bank's border with Jordan, keep early-warning stations on hilltops and retain military bases near the Jordanian border.
"Israel is using the issue of security to take land," he said. "From the general discussions we had in the last couple of weeks, the Israelis have shown no intention to dismantle any settlement." He said the current proposals indicated that Israel would seek to retain control over about 40 percent of the West Bank.
"They said, 'Let's discuss a state with provisional borders.' We said, 'Let's agree on a state based on the 1967 borders first, and then we can agree on having this state in phases."