Israelis and Palestinians traded barbs over potential security arrangements in a final accord as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry returned to the region on his latest peace mission.
Palestinians object to Israel’s insistence on maintaining troops in the Jordan Valley area of the West Bank even after a final peace treaty is signed, in order to safeguard the Jewish state’s eastern flank. Palestinians who claim the area as part of their future state say any such arrangement would violate their sovereignty.
“There should be a complete withdrawal of Israeli forces to the 1967 lines, including the Jordan Valley,” Saleh Rafat, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s decision-making executive committee, said today by phone. “If Kerry just comes back with the same proposals, this is not acceptable.”
Kerry arrived at Tel Aviv’s Ben-Gurion International Airport in the late afternoon and immediately went to Ramallah for talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. He meets Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem tomorrow. During his visit to the region last week, Kerry and his team presented ideas for security arrangements.
The secretary of state planned to discuss a possible security framework for Israel with Abbas for the first time, according to U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because of diplomatic protocol.
No Imminent Announcement
They dismissed reports that an announcement is imminent on a blueprint for a peace accord, saying the target remains a final agreement by April 29, nine months after the talks began. If by that time the sides can at least agree on shared principles, then that would allow for an extension of the negotiations until a final accord is struck, they said.
The Palestinians would accept deployment of an international force in the Jordan Valley, Rafat said -- a proposal Israel rejects. It wants its own soldiers stationed there to block the possible entry of militants and weapons into the state Palestinians want to establish on lands Israel captured in 1967.
“Sometimes there is the impression that the Palestinians are seizing on every detail, every excuse, in order to sabotage every chance for peace, every negotiation,” Israeli Minister of Intelligence and Strategic Affairs Yuval Steinitz said today on Army Radio. “The principle is very simple; our security must rest in our own hands.”
The U.S. brokered a renewal of peace talks in July between Palestinians and Israelis after a three-year hiatus. At the end of his trip last week, Kerry said the sides were closer to peace than they have been in years and that an accord was reachable.
If the talks do not progress, the U.S. is preparing to present its own outline of a final peace agreement to both sides within weeks, the Haaretz daily said today, citing unidentified American and Israeli officials.
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