Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said a full and final Israeli military withdrawal from Palestinian territory should take place within a three-year period under any final Middle East peace deal.
“Those who are proposing 10 to 15 years (before a withdrawal) do not want to withdraw at all,” Abbas said in an interview screened on Tuesday at the annual conference of the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) taking place in Tel Aviv.
“We say that in a reasonable time frame, no longer than three years, Israel can withdraw gradually,” he said.
His remarks came as an April deadline loomed for faltering US-backed peace talks, which have been in deadlock notably over the issue of future security arrangements.
Israel wants to maintain a long-term military presence in the Jordan Valley, where the West Bank borders Jordan, but the Palestinians insist Israeli troops withdraw completely, making way for an international force.
“We have no problem with there being a third party present after or during the withdrawal, to reassure Israel and to reassure us that the process will be completed,” Abbas said.
“We think NATO is the appropriate party to undertake this mission.
“The Palestinian borders must, in the end, be held (controlled) by Palestinians and not by the Israeli army,” he added.
Abbas reiterated Palestinian demands that a two-state solution be based on the lines that existed before Israel captured the West Bank in 1967, and stressed the importance of having annexed East Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital.
Israel has demanded a long-term military presence in the Jordan Valley and Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, but Palestinian negotiators say that Israel’s demands are merely an attempt to sideline their own key demands in the talks — such as future borders.
The demand for recognition, which has been rejected by the Palestinians, was raised at the INSS conference by Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon.
“They say there’s no justification for the Jewish state, that’s what we have to grapple with,” Ya’alon said of the Palestinians.
“Even if we cede to their territorial claims … that still won’t be the end of the Palestinians’ demands,” he said, reiterating Israeli fears that without such recognition, there will be no final end to the conflict.
The two sides began a nine-month track of US-backed peace negotiations in July but so far there has been little visible progress, with the Palestinians warning that after the deadline, they could take legal action in the international courts against Israel over its settlement expansion on land they want for their future state.
But Abbas expressed hope there would be progress before then.
“I hope we succeed so we don’t have to resort to legal or diplomatic or political confrontation on the world stage,” he said.
“A solution will bring Israel recognition from 57 Muslim countries, a clear, straightforward and diplomatic recognition between these countries and Israel,” Abbas added.
“I hope the Israeli people can understand what it is to be in an ocean of peace, from Mauritania to Indonesia, rather than in an island of peace as it is at the moment.”
He said he would happily meet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in person, during a visit by either man to each other’s parliament.