Israel rejects Kerry proposal for renewing talks with PA

12 April 2013 | 06:09 Code : 1914852 Latest Headlines

A fundamental disagreement between Israel and the U.S. regarding the renewal of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations came to light during U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's visit to Israel.

A senior Israeli official involved in the talks Kerry held in Jerusalem said that Israel opposes Kerry's proposal to resume negotiations on the basis of discussing border and security issues alone.

Kerry has approached the Israeli-Palestinian issue with much enthusiasm, and is pressuring both sides to implement confidence-building measures and agree on a draft outline for resumption of talks. However, after his second visit to the region this week, it seems that the Secretary of State did not correctly assess just how frozen the standstill over the peace process is, and how rigid both sides' positions are. This is what Kerry was referring to when he left Israel saying that he himself, and the two sides, have a lot of homework to do.

A senior Israeli official, who asked to remain anonymous due to the sensitivity of the subject, expressed considerable skepticism regarding Kerry's steps, and made cynical, slightly scornful comments regarding his attitude. "Kerry believes that he can bring about the solution, the treaty and the salvation," he said. "He thinks that the conflict is primarily over territory…and that is wrong."

The differences between Israel and the Palestinians around the conditions for a renewal of negotiations – a commitment to 1967 borders and a settlement freeze – still loom large, and the rifts between both sides over fundamental issues such as borders, refugees, settlements and security, are huge.

Nevertheless, it seems that at this stage the most serious disagreement is between the U.S. and Israel. It appears that despite U.S. President Barack Obama's successful recent visit, the dialogue between Israel and the U.S. over the Palestinian question is regressing back to the differences that emerged in 2009.

During his discussions in Israel and the Palestinian Authority, Kerry made it clear that in the event negotiations would be renewed, they would initially need to deal with a discussion over Israel's security requirements, in parallel with a discussion regarding the borders of the future Palestinian state.

Kerry also requested Israel to direct a series of confidence-building measures at the Palestinians, among them the release of prisoners and the transferal of weapons to Palestinian security forces in order to create a suitable atmosphere for the renewal of talks.

The senior official noted that in talks with Kerry on Monday and Tuesday of this week, Israel expressed its opposition to such a draft outline. "There is a dispute over the framework of the process and over how it will be conducted," the official said. "Israel opposes placing the issues of borders and security at the preliminary stage of negotiations, and we said this to Kerry. On this issue, there is full consent among all the ministers dealing with the Palestinian subject, including Tzipi Livni."

For its part, Israel demands that if negotiations are to be resumed they will need to address, in parallel, all core issues of the final settlement – including the issue of recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, and a solution to the refugee problem. "If the discussion commences with talks about borders and security, Israel will only give, and will get almost nothing in return," the senior official said. "When we get to the issues where the Palestinians will need to give something up - like the right of return - we won’t have any bargaining chips left."

In addition, Israel also opposes making significant gestures towards the Palestinians before the resumption of negotiations. Off the table are any moves such as releasing prisoners, transferring weapons to the PA's security services, and the promotion of economic projects that would require even the smallest transfer of land to Palestinian civic or security control.

Kerry may have declared he obtained from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu an agreement on advancing economic projects, but it turns out that the list of projects is not at all finalized. For instance, Israel opposes the establishment of a Palestinian tourism project on the northern shore of the Dead Sea – which is located within Area C, under Israel's full control – since it sees this location as territorially significant.

'We are prepared to undertake confidence-building measures that do not harm our interests," said the senior official. "There is no problem with setting up sewage treatment plants, schools or roads in Area C. But if we're talking about transferring land through economic projects, then we're not ready to do so. If negotiations are renewed, we will be willing to perform many gestures and steps, but they will take place as part of a process that is already underway."

tags: israel palestinian official kerry borders

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