The Palestinian Authority demands that any land swap 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, according to details leaked to Channel 2 by a disgruntled Palestinian official on Sunday.
According to the report, the Palestinians are also insisting that they gain control over water, and control at their sides of the Dead Sea and border crossings; that a Palestinian state be able to sign agreements with other states without Israeli intervention; that Israel release all Palestinian prisoners it holds; 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.
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 remaking 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 to incorporate 80% 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. Sunday’s report would appear to indicate that the sides have broached the subject.
Israeli and Palestinian officials agreed ahead of the renewal of talks in July not to speak to the press about the progress of negotiations, but Justice Minister and chief negotiator Tzipi Livni on Sunday remarked in an interview with Channel 2 that the sides had yet to reach an agreement. Asked whether, now that nearly one-third of the nine-month time-frame — set by US Secretary of State John Kerry for the talks — has elapsed, negotiations were one-third completed, Livni tersely replied, “It doesn’t work like that.”
Earlier on Sunday, the Israeli cabinet approved the release of 26 Palestinian prisoners, the second phase of a four-stage release aimed at building confidence with the Palestinians.
A government statement said 21 of the inmates to be released were from the West Bank and five were from the Gaza Strip. “A list of the prisoners is to be published Sunday night on the website of the Israel Prisons Service, after the bereaved families have been informed,” the statement said.
All of the prisoners committed their crimes before the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993.
The releases were expected to be accompanied by the announcement of new plans for West Bank settlement construction, a senior Israeli official said.
The religious, nationalist Jewish Home party has bitterly attacked the planned prisoner releases in recent days. On Sunday, the party proposed legislation to prevent future releases. Opposed by Netanyahu, the bill was rejected by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation in an 8-5 vote.