Israel Cut Land Offer, Palestinian Ex-Negotiator Says

Israel told the Palestinians it’s willing to withdraw from only 40 percent of the West Bank, a Palestinian official close to the peace talks said, indicating how far U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is from delivering an accord.

Mohammad Shtayyeh, who negotiated on behalf of the Palestinians until November, says the offer made by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s team was less than half the area previous Israeli governments have been ready to concede for a Palestinian state.

Other points of contention include Israel’s demands to be recognized as a Jewish state and to maintain a long-term security presence in areas of the West Bank bordering Jordan, Shtayyeh said in an interview. The two sides remain far apart on the fates of Jerusalem and Palestinian refugees, he said.

Disagreement is growing, Shtayyeh, 55, said at his government office in the West Bank city of Ramallah. “It’s not narrowing at all.”

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who met with Kerry in Paris last week, will visit President Barack Obama on March 17, according to a White House statement released today. 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. He remains Abbas’s minister in charge of the Palestinian Economic Council for Development and Reconstruction.

Demands Recognition

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.” He did not directly address how much land Israel might cede to the Palestinians.

Netanyahu has said he does not intend to remove any of the Jewish settlements that are home to some 350,000 Israelis living in the West Bank. Most countries consider the settlements illegal. Kerry has called them illegitimate. Israel considers the West Bank disputed land whose status should be decided in peace talks.

Shtayyeh said that after seven months of negotiations, he does not expect the two sides to reach a deal by the deadline Kerry set of April 29.

‘Tactical Presence’

He said Palestinians have made significant concessions and Israel’s “presence at the negotiating table is just a tactical presence” while Netanyahu’s negotiators offer less than previous Israeli governments have.

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 withdraw from 40 percent in the current round of talks, Regev replied: “We don’t respond to every piece of speculation.”

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