Here’s the latest:
- American sources say the Israeli government is prepared to give up some 90% of the territory of Judea and Samaria, commonly known as the West Bank.
- There are numerous sticking points in the peace process — the amount of territory is one key issue, but so is the future of Jerusalem, the so-called right of return, the Jewish character of Israel, among others.
- Establishing and maintaining security in the Jordan River Valley has emerged as a critical point of contention between the two sides.
- Abbas says Israeli forces could stay for up to 5 years to provide security in the Jordan River Valley, but would have to completely withdraw (only recently Abbas said IDF forces could only stay for 3 years)
- Abbas wants NATO military forces to provide security upon the Israeli withdrawal.
- The Israelis say they don’t want to “outsource” their security to international forces, however well-meaning, since “peacekeepers” have historically cut-and-run when the shooting starts.
- Large numbers of Israeli don’t trust the Obama administration, according to new polls, especially after Secretary Kerry seemed to warn Israelis that if they didn’t sign onto his forthcoming peace plan that the rest of the world may impose an economic boycott on Israel.
- One poll finds that “a majority of Jewish Israelis — 61 percent — think U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry threatened Israel last weekend when he said that Israel may face boycotts and further delegitimization if the current peace negotiations with the Palestinians fail….Kerry was widely criticized in Israel this past week for his statements.”
- A separate poll found that “70 percent of Israeli Jews do not believe the US can be relied upon to maintain key Israeli interests and security requirements in the American- brokered agreement being drafted with the Palestinians.”
To be clear, neither Netanyahu nor his inner circle has been quoted as saying they are ready to give Abbas and the Palestinians 90% of the West Bank. That’s a leak from the American side, and I cannot confirm it’s true.
Maybe Netanyahu is just playing along with Kerry, biding his time, looking interested, looking ready to make major concessions, but hoping all the while that the Palestinians say “no” to the American plan first, thus making it unnecessary for him to do so.
But it is also possible that Netanyahu is really getting close to saying “yes” to Obama and Kerry.
Remember: In his address to the U.N. General Assembly last October, Netanyahu signaled he was preparing to make “painful concessions” for peace. “Israel continues to seek an historic compromise with our Palestinian neighbors, one that ends our conflict once and for all,” the PM said. “We want peace based on security and mutual recognition, in which a demilitarized Palestinian state recognizes the Jewish state of Israel. I remain committed to achieving an historic reconciliation and building a better future for Israelis and Palestinians alike. Now, I have no illusions about how difficult this will be to achieve. Twenty years ago, the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians began. Six Israeli prime ministers, myself included, have not succeeded at achieving peace with the Palestinians. My predecessors were prepared to make painful concessions. So am I. But so far the Palestinian leaders haven’t been prepared to offer the painful concessions they must make in order to end the conflict.”
At the time, it wasn’t clear anyone was listening to that paragraph, or believed him — after all, the bulk of that speech was about the Iran nuclear threat.
But it’s clear that Israelis are listening now, and some are growing angry, even those within his own government.
For more context:
- The White House is trying to impose a Mideast peace deal. Here’s what you need to know. (January 31)
- Are the rumors true? Is Netanyahu about to make “painful concessions” in the peace process? Here’s what we know.
- The closed-door negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority over the future contours of a Palestinian state, and how much land and settlements Israel will retain, have reportedly come down to a matter of a few percentage points, with both sides agreeing in principle that the majority of Jewish West Bank settlements would be transferred to Israeli sovereignty in a final status deal.
Citing anonymous Israeli, Palestinian and American sources close to the negotiations, Walla News reported on Thursday that Israel is seeking to annex about 10 percent of the West Bank’s land area in a final deal. Meanwhile, the Palestinians are seeking to have Israel annex only around 3% of the West Bank, the report said.
Some 70-80% of Jewish West Bank settlements will be transferred to Israel whether Israel retains 10% or 3% of West Bank land, the report noted.
According to a source on the American side, “it is clear” that Israel is “willing in principle to give up” control of 90% of the West Bank.
According to both Israeli and Palestinian officials cited in the report, the Palestinians have agreed to Israel’s annexation of the Gush Etzion bloc, just south of Jerusalem, but are arguing over the settlements of Efrat and Migdal Oz, which lie east of Route 60, a major north-south road running between Nazareth and Beersheba, through Jerusalem, Hebron and much of the West Bank.
Israel is seeking to also retain several of the smaller communities in the immediate area of Ma’ale Adumim, just east of Jerusalem, but the Palestinians have been opposed to such a move, the report said. Israel has said in the past it expects to keep control of the city of Ma’ale Adumim.
Both sides have reportedly agreed that the settlements that lie more or less along the 1967 border will be annexed by Israel, as will Givat Ze’ev, just north of Jerusalem. More-isolated Jewish settlements, such as Beit El, Ofra and others in the Samaria region, are not slated to be annexed, but Israel is reportedly seeking a long-term lease agreement for those communities.
The report did not touch on the issue of East Jerusalem, which Israel formally annexed in 1980, a move not recognized by the international community. The Palestinians seek to create their capital in the eastern part of the city, but the area is also home to several large Jewish neighborhoods, such as Gilo, Pisgat Ze’ev and Har Homa, which Israel is unlikely to consider parting with.
The future of settlements such as Ariel and Karnei Shomron in the northern West Bank is unclear, as the Palestinians are said to be extremely opposed to their annexation by Israel. It is supremely important for the PA to create “a contiguous Palestinian state” with sensible borders, and it will not agree to “a state whose map will be broken,” according to sources cited in the report.
The report noted that Israel seeks to “retain a presence” in Hebron, but there was no mention of the status of Kiryat Arba, a major settlement just outside the city, or any of the smaller Jewish communities in the surrounding area.
Israel has offered land adjacent to the southern West Bank, inside of Israel proper and not far from Hebron, as well as an area near Bet She’an, in exchange for the West Bank areas to be annexed. Israel has also raised the possibility of monetary compensation and other forms of economic assistance in exchange for the annexed territories, the report said.
The Americans are also attempting to persuade the two sides to agree to the creation of a “safe road” linking the West Bank and Gaza, but that idea, which has been raised before during previous rounds of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, is complicated by the security situation in the Strip, which is controlled by Islamic terror group Hamas. Israel is not opposed to the idea, an official said, but its implementation depends on “developments in Gaza.” If such a deal were agreed upon by the two sides, the official noted, it would create massive pressure on Hamas to comply with a general peace agreement.
- Follow on Twitter — @joelcrosenberg
- Pre-order The Auschwitz Escape — releasing on March 18th
- Order Damascus Countdown – a New York Times best-selling novel about an Israeli first strike on Iran’s nuclear program — now available in paperback, online and in bookstores nationwide
- Listen to Damascus Countdown as an audio book.
- Order the paperback of The Tehran Initiative
- Order the paperback of The Twelfth Imam
- Learn more about The Joshua Fund (www.joshuafund.net) – educating and mobilizing Christians to bless Israel and her neighbors in the name of Jesus, and caring for the poor and needy with food and other humanitarian relief – read our 2013 Donor Report, and make a year-end, tax deductible, secure on-line contribution