As part of ongoing peace talks, Israeli negotiators offered to transfer sovereignty of the Jordan Valley to the Palestinian Authority, which would in turn lease it back to Israel. Palestinian representatives rejected the idea out of hand, the Maariv daily reported.
“No Israeli soldier will be there,” Palestinian National Council member Hanan Ashrawi told Maariv. “We will not agree [to let Israel] control or lease lands. We will not take part in redefining the Israeli occupation.”
Israel signed a similar leasing agreement with Jordan as part of the 1994 peace accords, in which Israel acknowledged Jordanian sovereignty over 300 square kilometers along the border, and leased back 30 square kilometers in automatically renewed long-term leases.
“Netanyahu wants to control the Palestinian state, its borders and its airspace and refuses to discuss the option of placing international forces in the Jordan Valley,” Ashrawi told Maariv Wednesday. “We cannot agree to that. From our view, it’s just the occupation by another name, which wants to rule over us again and control our lives. We won’t accept that in any form.”
Israel insists on having an IDF presence on the Israeli-Jordanian border, which gives the narrow country some measure of strategic depth and early warning on its eastern border, and rejected an American proposal to place an international force there. In a reference to Israeli demands that Israel maintain a buffer zone in the Jordan Valley, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said during a Knesset address Tuesday that Israeli negotiators “will have to convince the Palestinians to adjust their demands to the circumstances around us.”
Israel must maintain a security presence in the Jordan Valley “precisely as Yitzhak Rabin insisted,” said Netanyahu to the Knesset during a special session marking the 18th anniversary of prime minister Rabin’s assassination. “What was vital then is even more vital today, given the rise of Islamic extremism and Iran’s takeover of territory we relinquished in the [South Lebanon] security zone and Gaza.”
“All the discussions focus on Israel’s security,” Ashrawi charged. “Israel is entrenched in its positions and continues to build in the settlements. Negotiations have not amounted to anything so far.”
The reported offer came almost three months into renewed peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Only US Secretary of State John Kerry is authorized to report on progress at the negotiations, but insiders have been quoted repeatedly in Israeli and Palestinian media as saying that little headway is being made, no breakthrough appears imminent, and each side is blaming the other for the impasses. Some Palestinians officials have publicly branded the talks as fruitless, while Israeli politicians called for their suspension in the wake of a series of terror attacks in the West Bank over the last month.
Israeli negotiations chief Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, however, this week dismissed the notion of a standstill as gossip, and her Hatnua party colleague, Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz, told Maariv that he was “optimistic” about the current round of negotiations.