Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has reportedly softened his objection to an interim peace agreement, an option he was known to vehemently resist previously.
Abbas is no longer completely opposed to such a deal, which would create a framework for two states but likely postpone the resolution of the toughest issues such as final borders, shared sovereignty over Jerusalem and the fate of Palestinian refugees, according to a Tuesday Israel Radio report, which gave no further details.
Palestinian Authority officials, and Abbas himself, have repeatedly said they were strongly against an interim peace agreement with Israel. In September, speaking at the UN General Assembly in New York, Abbas said the current round of negotiations were “the last chance” to achieve peace between Israel and the Palestinians but rejected “the dizzying exhilaration of interim agreements” in lieu of a permanent resolution.
The Oslo Peace Accords, signed by the two sides in 1993, were an interim peace agreement which stipulated that final-status issues must be resolved within five years. The so-called “Oslo Period” ended with the outbreak of the Second Intifada in 2000, after then-prime minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian Authority chairman Yasser Arafat failed to agree on a final deal.
On Sunday, a Channel 2 report revealed details on the peace negotiations, leaked by a disgruntled Palestinian official, which indicated that the Palestinians were taking a hard line on terms desired by Israel.
According to the report, the Palestinian Authority demanded that any land swap agreement with Israel as part of a peace deal not exceed 1.9 percent of the West Bank, less than half of the land necessary to incorporate the lion’s share of settlers.
The Palestinians are also insisting that they gain control over water resources, border crossings and the area on their side of the Dead Sea; that a Palestinian state be able to sign agreements with other states without Israeli intervention; that Israel release all Palestinian prisoners; and that all Palestinian refugees and their descendants be granted the right to choose to live in Israel or the Palestinian territories as part of a final agreement, according to the report.
The report made no mention of Israel’s position on these issues, but the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been wary of a Palestinian state exercising full sovereign powers that might threaten Israeli security, and all Israeli governments have rejected the possibility of anything other than a token influx of Palestinian refugees, for fear of changing the demographic balance of the Jewish state.
Israel, for its part, according to the TV report, has demanded that any peace deal provide Israel with territorial contiguity, that there be an IDF presence in the Jordan Valley for a prescribed period of time, and that, in addition to border adjustments covered by the land swaps, further land be annexed by Israel to cover the major settlement blocs in return for financial compensation to the Palestinians.
In previous rounds of negotiations, the Palestinians agreed in principle to swap some West Bank land for Israeli territory, in order to allow Israel to annex some settled areas adjacent to its border. Israeli peace activist Gershon Baskin has estimated that annexation of 4% of the West Bank would be necessary in order to incorporate the majority of the settler population in a final agreement.
The US-brokered peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority reportedly reached an impasse last month due to the Israeli refusal to discuss land-swap and border issues. The recent reports appear to indicate that the sides have broached the subject.