Gaps are widening between Israelis and Palestinians, a senior Palestinian official said, as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry struggles to draft a blueprint meant to guide peace talks to a final accord.
Mohammad Shtayyeh, who negotiated on behalf of the Palestinians until November, said Israel was willing to cede 40 percent of the West Bank to a future state of Palestine, less than half the area previous Israeli governments have offered.
Other points of contention include Israel’s demands to be recognized as Jewish state and to maintain a long-term security presence in areas of the West Bank bordering Jordan, Shtayyeh said in an interview in Ramallah, West Bank. The two sides also remain far apart on the fates of Jerusalem and Palestinian refugees, he said.
Disagreement is “growing. It’s not narrowing at all,” Shtayyeh said. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who met with Kerry in Paris last week, will visit President Barack Obama at the White House on March 16 or 17 to discuss the state of talks, he added. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is scheduled to meet Obama in Washington on March 3.
While Shtayyeh is no longer a negotiator, he retains a senior position in the Palestinian leadership as a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s decision-making central committee.
Asked to respond to Shtayyeh’s claims, Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said, “There can be no peace, there can be no genuine reconciliation without Palestinian recognition of the Jewish state.”
“How is it that they ask us to recognize the Palestinian people’s right to have a state of their own, and yet they consistently refuse to recognize the national rights of the Jewish people?” he asked.
Kerry prodded the sides to resume talks in July after a breakdown of almost three years, with the initial aim of reaching a final accord by late April. Disagreements have led him to scale back his ambitions, and he is now working on a proposal meant to keep negotiators talking beyond that deadline.
An ultimate aim of the talks is the establishment of a independent state for the Palestinians, who claim the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip -- territory Israel captured in 1967 -- for a homeland. Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005 and under previous leaders, offered to give up about 90 percent of the West Bank.
Asked whether Israel had offered to cede 40 percent in the current round of talks, Regev replied, “We don’t respond to every piece of speculation.”
In a roundtable conversation with reporters in Washington yesterday, Kerry said he hoped his pursuit of a peace agreement doesn’t prove futile.
“I hope we’re not wasting our time, and I hope very much that we’re able to get both parties to do what is necessary to enter the most critical stage of this,” he said.