Opposition leader Isaac Herzog held secret talks with PA President Mahmoud Abbas during the 2014-2015 election cycle, and agreed to cede the entire West Bank and East Jerusalem to the Palestinians as part of a future peace deal, according to report published on Thursday.
Herzog’s negotiator, former minister Efraim Sneh, and a Palestinian Authority representative who remained unnamed reached an agreement under which Palestinian refugees would receive financial compensation, the Western Wall would remain under Israeli control, and Israel would retain a “symbolic” military presence in the Jordan Valley, alongside Palestinian and Jordanian soldiers, Channel 10 reported.
“I learned that there is someone to talk with, something to talk about, and that we can arrive at understandings on everything,” Sneh said of the negotiations.
He said that the provisional negotiations was cut short by the result of the elections, which saw Herzog, who was thought to have a chance to win the premiership, soundly lose to Netanyahu.
According to the report, which cited an agreed document setting out the understandings, Herzog was willing to withdraw to the 1967 lines in full, with the exception of mutual land swaps on four percent of the territory. Land swaps would be negotiated so that Israel could retain control of its largest settlement blocs.
The final-status equation for Jerusalem would have seen the east of the city become the capital of a Palestinian state, with a single municipality responsible for the two capitals.
The Temple Mount — the site on which the two ancient Jewish temples once stood and where the Islamic holy sites of the al-Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock now stand — was supposed to be under the authority of a multinational force, but with Israeli sovereignty over the Western Wall, the report said.
The Palestinian refugee issue was to be settled based on UN Resolution 194 and the Arab Peace Initiative, according to the report, with financial compensation for the majority of refugees and a “symbolic” return for some based on a “joint decision.”
UN Resolution 194, somewhat different than what was presented in the report, calls for the allowance of any refugee wishing to return to their homes to be able to do so, and financial compensation for those who do not return. The Arab Peace Initiative, a proposal that would see all Arab and Islamic states establish normal diplomatic relations with Israel after the successful conclusion of the peace process with the Palestinians, calls for a just solution to the problem of Palestinian refugees to be agreed upon in accordance with the UN General Assembly Resolution No. 194.
The UN today says there are five million Palestinian refugees. That number has grown more than five-fold since the 1948 Israeli War of Independence because the UN also designates as refugees second, third and subsequent generations of descendants of Palestinians who used to live in what is now Israel and the West Bank.
Herzog confirmed the talks with Abbas, although he did not confirm the specifics, and asserted that had they come to fruition they would have forestalled the wave of violence that swept across Israel and the West Bank in late 2015 and early 2016.
“During the talks with the Palestinian Authority president in 2014, I made efforts aimed at reaching understandings that would have prevented the wave of terror that I anticipated, just like the efforts I am now making so that the abandonment of the initiative for a regional conference by the extreme right-wing government won’t lead us to another war,” he said. “After rounds of wars and funerals nearly every year and over the past decade, I won’t listen to the mantra that threats can only be subdued through military force.”
Herzog added: “Most peace agreements came after a difficult round of bloodshed between peoples fighting each other. The right always offers us war and then runs to sign peace treaties. We are just offering to reverse the order and prevent hundreds of fathers and mothers from visiting military cemeteries. The right should also consider this.”
During the Taba Summit, the final chapter of negotiations between Israel and the PLO before the breakout of the Second Intifada in 2001, Israel reportedly offered 97% of the West Bank.
In 2008, during negotiations between then-prime minister Ehud Olmert and Abbas, Israel offered to retain 6.3% of the West Bank and offered 5.8% of Israel proper in return.
Abbas has said that negotiations with Olmert nearly led to an agreement, but then the former prime minister fell into legal troubles and was out of office.
Abbas said he also felt Olmert’s offer to accept a symbolic number of Palestinian refugees into Israel did not resolve the issue .
The current Israeli government is calling for direct negotiations with the PA, but the Palestinians are instead pinning their hopes on the French initiative, which calls for a regional and international approach to negotiations.