JERUSALEM – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is set to propose a phased withdrawal from large portions of Judea and Samaria as well as a series of “quality of life” initiatives designed to improve the lives of Palestinians who live in the West Bank and Gaza.
The moves are part of a package, meant to underscore Israel’s seriousness about arriving at a final peace accord with the Palestinians, to be presented later this week when direct negotiations resume in Washington.
Though a majority of Netanyahu’s government coalition members, including Yisrael Beitenu party leader and foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman, do not expect any positive results from the renewed negotiations, Netanyahu has received tacit support from his own Likud Party to offer Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas a comprehensive peace plan.
According to a report last weekend in Yediot Aharonot, President Obama will prod Netanyahu and Abbas this week in Washington and during an upcoming visit to Israel and the Palestinian Authority, to reach a peace agreement in the next 12 months, details of which would be implemented over a 10-year period.
Israel’s Channel 10 News reported Sunday that Netanyahu is likely to offer to withdraw from about 90 percent of Judea and Samaria, nearly 4 percent less than what Israel offered Yasir Arafat in 2000 and about 6 percent less than what Abbas was offered in 2008. Arafat and Abbas rejected the offers.
Both Yediot Aharonot and Channel 10 reported that Netanyahu will offer to swap 3.9 percent of Israeli territory, including portions of the Southwestern Negev near Gaza and perhaps a strip along the banks of the Northern Dead Sea near Jericho, in order to make up the difference offered by previous Israeli administrations.
Netanyahu will also propose a 5-10 year phased withdrawal from portions of Judea and Samaria in order to prevent civil strife with Jewish settlers and test the security arrangements between the IDF and Palestinian forces.
According to the newspaper Yisrael Hayom, one of the more interesting bargaining chips Netanyahu will offer Abbas is the creation of a new direct rail link between Ramallah, Ben-Gurion Airport and the Gaza Strip.
Haaretz reported that Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz had already received initial government funding for restoring and upgrading a pre-state rail link that would run between Jenin, the Jezreel Valley (near Afula) and Jerusalem.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak met with Abbas Sunday night in Amman, hours after meeting with Jordan’s King Abdullah at his palace. Barak returned to Israel to brief Netanyahu between the meetings.
Barak and Abbas reportedly discussed an Israeli easing of security measures in the West Bank, and Barak reiterated Israel’s commitment to the success of the renewed peace talks.
Meanwhile, even as Netanyahu prepared to leave for Washington Tuesday morning, Foreign Minister Lieberman continued to voice skepticism about the likelihood of any meaningful peace agreement – particularly with the Palestinians demanding an indefinite extension of the freeze on settlement construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.
“It’s clear that the two sides are so different – in content, in approach – that it’s hard to talk about a peace agreement within a year,” Lieberman said during a radio interview.
“What have we been doing for the 17 years since Oslo?” Lieberman asked rhetorically. “Suddenly we’re going to reach a peace agreement within a year? I think that the more we can lower expectations the healthier it will be.”
Lieberman said warnings by Palestinian officials that negotiations will proceed only if Israel extends the 10-month building freeze, due to expire Sept. 27, probably doomed the talks before they even began.
“Anyone coming with an ‘all or nothing’ attitude will end up at the end of the day with nothing,” he said.
(Supplemental reporting from INN and JTA)