The closed-door negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority over the future contours of a Palestinian state, and how much land and settlements Israel will retain, have reportedly come down to a matter of a few percentage points, with both sides agreeing in principle that the majority of Jewish West Bank settlements would be transferred to Israeli sovereignty in a final status deal.
Citing anonymous Israeli, Palestinian and American sources close to the negotiations, Walla News reported on Thursday that Israel is seeking to annex about 10 percent of the West Bank’s land area in a final deal. Meanwhile, the Palestinians are seeking to have Israel annex only around 3% of the West Bank, the report said.
Some 70-80% of Jewish West Bank settlements will be transferred to Israel whether Israel retains 10% or 3% of West Bank land, the report noted. According to a source on the American side, “it is clear” that Israel is “willing in principle to give up” control of 90% of the West Bank.
According to both Israeli and Palestinian officials cited in the report, the Palestinians have agreed to Israel’s annexation of the Gush Etzion bloc, just south of Jerusalem, but are arguing over the settlements of Efrat and Migdal Oz, which lie east of Route 60, a major north-south road running between Nazareth and Beersheba, through Jerusalem, Hebron and much of the West Bank. Israel is seeking to also retain several of the smaller communities in the immediate area of Ma’ale Adumim, just east of Jerusalem, but the Palestinians have been opposed to such a move, the report said. Israel has said in the past it expects to keep control of the city of Ma’ale Adumim.
Both sides have reportedly agreed that the settlements that lie more or less along the 1967 border will be annexed by Israel, as will Givat Ze’ev, just north of Jerusalem. More-isolated Jewish settlements, such as Beit El, Ofra and others in the Samaria region, are not slated to be annexed, but Israel is reportedly seeking a long-term lease agreement for those communities.
The report did not touch on the issue of East Jerusalem, which Israel formally annexed in 1980, a move not recognized by the international community. The Palestinians seek to create their capital in the eastern part of the city, but the area is also home to several large Jewish neighborhoods, such as Gilo, Pisgat Ze’ev and Har Homa, which Israel is unlikely to consider parting with.
The future of settlements such as Ariel and Karnei Shomron in the northern West Bank is unclear, as the Palestinians are said to be extremely opposed to their annexation by Israel. It is supremely important for the PA to create “a contiguous Palestinian state” with sensible borders, and it will not agree to “a state whose map will be broken,” according to sources cited in the report.
The report noted that Israel seeks to “retain a presence” in Hebron, but there was no mention of the status of Kiryat Arba, a major settlement just outside the city, or any of the smaller Jewish communities in the surrounding area.
Israel has offered land adjacent to the southern West Bank, inside of Israel proper and not far from Hebron, as well as an area near Bet She’an, in exchange for the West Bank areas to be annexed. Israel has also raised the possibility of monetary compensation and other forms of economic assistance in exchange for the annexed territories, the report said.
The Americans are also attempting to persuade the two sides to agree to the creation of a “safe road” linking the West Bank and Gaza, but that idea, which has been raised before during previous rounds of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, is complicated by the security situation in the Strip, which is controlled by Islamic terror group Hamas. Israel is not opposed to the idea, an official said, but its implementation depends on “developments in Gaza.” If such a deal were agreed upon by the two sides, the official noted, it would create massive pressure on Hamas to comply with a general peace agreement.
The fate of the Jewish West Bank settlements was at the backdrop of a high-profile spat last week between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Jewish Home party leader, Economy Minister Naftali Bennett.
Bennett reacted publicly to comments by an official to The Times of Israel saying the prime minister was insisting that Jewish West Bank settlers be given the option to remain in their homes under Palestinian rule, following the signing of a peace deal.
Bennett dismissed the idea out of hand, and said that history “won’t forgive” an Israeli leader who relinquished parts of the Land of Israel under a peace deal. The row led to a short-lived coalition crisis. Bennett later partially apologized for his remarks, but did not change his position.
US Secretary of State John Kerry is expected to present in the near future the so-called “framework agreement,” a nonbinding document intended to outline a final-status agreement, the principles of which have been agreed upon by the two sides.