Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was apparently prepared to accept a framework agreement drafted by US officials that set the pre-1967 lines as the basis for negotiations with the Palestinians, according to a report Wednesday.
Two drafts of a document meant to set the parameters for negotiations during US-brokered talks in early 2014 recognized Israel as a Jewish state, dropped the Palestinian demand for a “right of return” and set Jerusalem as the capital for both Israel and Palestine, according to Israeli daily Haaretz, which says it obtained copies of the drafts.
According to the report, which cites unnamed US officials from the Obama administration as well as Israeli officials, Netanyahu was amenable to a paragraph in a draft agreement from February 2014 that set pre-1967 borders as a starting point for talks, something to which he has never previously explicitly agreed.
For his part, the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas rejected the first draft and did not respond to the second, the report said.
“The new secure and recognized international borders between Israel and Palestine will be negotiated based on the 1967 lines with mutually-agreed swaps whose size and location will be negotiated, so that Palestine will have viable territory corresponding in size to the territory controlled by Egypt and Jordan before June 4, 1967, with territorial contiguity in the West Bank. In negotiating the borders, the parties will need to take into account subsequent developments, Israel’s security requirements and the goal of minimizing movement of existing populations while avoiding friction,” the paragraph read, according to the report.
Sources said Netanyahu sought to have the words “territorial contiguity” removed but was rebuffed by Washington.
Netanyahu has vociferously rejected the idea that Israel return to its lines before the 1967 Six Day War, vowing to hold Jerusalem and keep certain settlement blocs. On Tuesday, he told right-wing leaders in the Knesset he backed continued settlement building.
“Alongside our desire to reach an agreement with our Palestinian neighbors, we will continue to protect the settlement enterprise and strengthen it,” Netanyahu said. “We are doing this responsibly and with discretion.”
He also argued that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is “not a territorial dispute” but rather stems from the Palestinians’ refusal to recognize the Jewish state and their desire to “destroy the country.”
There was no immediate comment from Netanyahu’s office on the report.
Talks between Israel and the Palestinian fell apart in April 2014 after just over a year amid mutual recriminations, despite an intensive effort by then US secretary of state John Kerry to push the sides toward an agreement. Peace efforts have remained stagnant since then, though President Donald Trump is attempting to push the sides toward returning to the table.
According to Wednesday’s report, the draft document was based on secret negotiations between Netanyahu adviser Yitzhak Molcho and Hussein Agha, a confidant of Abbas, in London in 2013.
A first version of the draft was rejected by Abbas for failing to strongly endorse a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem. A second version in March, meant to answer Palestinian concerns, bolstered the language, but Abbas never responded to it positively or negatively and talks fell apart soon after.
While the document mentioned Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, a core Israeli demand, it also clarified that the states will have “full equal rights and no discrimination against any member of any ethnic or religious community,” meant to appease the Palestinian side, according to Haaretz.
Both Netanyahu and Abbas have said they are prepared for direct negotiations to restart, but Ramallah has demanded Israel take steps like a settlement freeze and Netanyahu has said Abbas must recognize Israel as a Jewish state, producing a stalemate.
It’s unclear if the Kerry-era draft document is being used in efforts by the Trump administration to restart talks.
On Tuesday, State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said both sides will “be forced to compromise,” but did not offer more specifics on efforts to jump-start negotiations.
After Trump visited the region last month, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters that Trump was “very forceful” with both Netanyahu and Abbas as he sought to jumpstart negotiations.
“He put a lot of pressure on them that it’s time to get to the table,” Tillerson said.