The Palestinian Authority would allow an IDF presence in a future Palestinian state for up to five years, while NATO peacekeepers could remain for as long as necessary and patrol all parts of the Palestinian state, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has said.
“At the end of five years my country will be clean of occupation,” Abbas said, according to an interview published Monday in the New York Times.
Abbas added that he would not make that time period subject to an Israeli evaluation of the situation because that would be “a humiliation for us. … They will make a test for us and of course we will fail.”
While he was adamant about putting a cap on any IDF presence, Abbas expressed willingness to accept a NATO peacekeeping presence as long as necessary in order to put Israel’s security concerns to rest — “for a long time, and wherever they want, not only on the eastern borders but also on the western borders, everywhere…,” Abbas said. “For a long time, for the time they wish. NATO can be everywhere, why not?”
International peacekeepers “can stay to reassure the Israelis, and to protect us. We will be demilitarized. … Do you think we have any illusion that we can have any security if the Israelis do not feel they have security?”
In any case, he vowed, there would be no return to an armed intifada — at least not under his leadership. “In my life, and if I have any more life in the future,” he said, “I will never return to the armed struggle.”
Palestinian negotiators have been open to an international peacekeeping force in the past, but it has been a sticking point with the Israeli side, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly said that Israel must “defend itself — by itself.” According to Abbas, Netanyahu’s position on this issue has been unshakable.
“The Israelis do not want the third party,” Abbas said. “[Former Israeli prime minister Ehud] Olmert, he welcomed this idea. Mr. Netanyahu told me directly, when we were in his house, ‘I cannot rely on anybody to protect my security except my army. …’ He doesn’t want to leave the borders to us. I told him: ‘If you will not trust your allies, so whom do you trust? I am not bringing for you Turkey and Indonesia.’ He said, ‘I trust my army only. …’ The Israelis are occupiers and they want to stay forever. When they say they want to stay for 40 years, it means they will not go out from our territory.”
Jewish Home party leader Naftali Bennett dismissed Abbas’s NATO idea, saying they would prove ineffective in a real crisis.
At the weekly Jewish Home faction meeting Monday, Bennett said Israel should learn from prior experience with international forces. “When everything’s quiet they’re there. The moment you need them they run away,” he quipped. “International forces will be the last thing to help us sleep in peace.”
“The IDF alone will protect our children” he said. “To any other solution we say: No thanks.”
A senior Israeli official, speaking to The Times of Israel on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the talks, said later on Monday that Israel saw “a number of [problematic] issues” with Abbas’s offer of a five-year presence.
“We live in a very volatile region, where the security challenges are very dynamic. And an official time framework for a security presence, we believe, is very problematic. We think it has to be based on realities on the ground. It has to be based on performance. So establishing an artificial timeline is a mistake. And of course it has to be something Israel has control over.”
The second issue: When it comes to multinational forces, the official said, “Israel is skeptical in the extreme. Ultimately, Israel has to have the ability to defend itself by itself. We don’t believe in subcontracting out our most fundamental security requirements. And the experience with international forces” — for example, the official said, in Lebanon, on the Golan Heights, and in Gaza — “hasn’t shown their capability to meet challenges when they’re under pressure.
“We’ve never asked for American forces,” the official continued, “but even those who talk about American forces, I’d remind them that when American forces were attacked in Lebanon in the 1980s they pulled out. And that was under Reagan. So we don’t think there’s a substitute for an Israeli security presence.”
Abbas also emphasized that if talks fail, he would resort to what the Palestinians consider their foremost diplomatic asset: pursuing membership in international agencies and courts.
“Mr. Abbas said that he had been resisting pressure to join the United Nations agencies from the Palestinian street and leadership — including unanimous votes by the Palestine Liberation Organization’s executive committee and the central committee of his own Fatah Party — and that his staff had presented 63 applications ready for his signature,” according to the New York Times.
“No, I don’t want, I want to take advantage of every minute now, maybe we can achieve something,” Abbas said. “I don’t like to go to the courts. I don’t like courts. I want to solve my problems directly between the parties.” But he added, “If I don’t get my rights, now put your foot in my shoe — what should I do?”
Abbas also rejected, as he has done consistently in the past, the Israeli demand to recognize Israel as a Jewish nation-state.
“This is out of the question,” he said, and added that Jordan and Egypt did not do so in their peace treaties with Israel.
“How do you have an end of conflict, real peace and reconciliation,” wondered the well-placed Israeli official in response, “and not an endless conflict, without Palestinian recognition [of Israel as a Jewish state]? Is Israel legitimate, in any borders? Until Palestinians can answer that question unequivocally, peace is going to be elusive.”
Israel has faced mounting pressure to negotiate a peace agreement with the Palestinians and has reportedly decided to accept US Secretary of State John Kerry’s framework deal for continued negotiations.
US top negotiator Martin Indyk told Jewish leaders last week that the Obama administration would soon present its framework for an Israeli-Palestinian agreement that the sides may accept with reservations as a basis for a final deal by the end of 2014.
The US framework document, whose terms will not have to be signed off as fully binding by the Israeli and Palestinian leaderships, provides for talks on Palestinian statehood based on the pre-1967 lines with land swaps to enable 75 to 80 percent of settlers to come under Israeli sovereignty, relates to Israel as the Jewish state, provides for compensation for refugees but no Palestinian “right of return,” and does not go into detail on the fate of Jerusalem, Indyk indicated.
Meanwhile, well-placed political sources told The Times of Israel over the weekend that Netanyahu’s expected agreement to continue peace talks on the basis of the framework proposal need not provoke a coalition crisis with the right-wing Jewish Home party. Provided the framework deal was not binding and was not brought to a government vote, the sources said, the party’s leader, Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, would likely not choose to bolt the coalition over it.
Reports in recent weeks have indicated that the Palestinian Authority is set to reject the framework document, but these reports have not been confirmed.
Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator over the weekend again ruled out the notion of Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. Speaking at a Munich security conference, on a panel with his Israeli counterpart Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, Erekat said the demand was unacceptable: “When you say ‘accept Israel as a Jewish state’ you are asking me to change my narrative,” he claimed, asserting that his ancestors lived in the region “5,500 years before [Biblical Israelite leader] Joshua Bin-Nun came and burned my hometown Jericho.”
Both Israel’s Finance Minister Yair Lapid and Kerry have warned in recent days that failure to reach an agreement could increase anti-Israel sentiment and lead to more international boycotts. The suggestions elicited significant backlash from right-wing Israeli politicians.
Speaking at the Munich Security Conference Sunday, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon reiterated Israel’s stance that absent Palestinian “recognition of our right to exist as a nation-state of the Jewish people, giving up the right of return, and addressing our security needs,” there can be no peace agreement.
He added that while he hoped the sides could reach a deal, “if not, we will manage,” despite the looming possibility of increased boycotts and consequent harm to Israel’s economy.