Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would be prepared to relinquish 86 percent of the West Bank in a peace accord with the Palestinians, Israel’s deputy foreign minister said Friday.
A report in Maariv quoted Ze’ev Elkin, a hawkish member of Netanyahu’s Likud party, saying that were the Palestinians to agree to the former prime minister Ariel Sharon’s vision of Israel retaining 14% of the West Bank to encompass major settlement blocs, and relinquishing the rest, “Netanyahu would go for it.”
Israeli-Palestinian peace talks are set to resume on Tuesday. Netanyahu and Secretary of State John Kerry spoke by phone on Thursday night about the new talks, with Kerry reportedly urging Netanyahu to present his proposals for the borders of a Palestinian state, and Netanyahu preferring that the talks first focus on Israel’s security needs.
The talks are set to continue for several weeks with Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Yitzhak Molcho representing Israel, and Saeb Erekat representing the Palestinians. Tuesday’s session will focus on a timetable for the negotiations. There are no immediate plans for direct meetings between Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Hebrew media reports indicated Friday.
A Haaretz report said Netanyahu had agreed to cap settlement building to 1,000 new homes during the negotiations, rather than freezing settlement building altogether as the Palestinians had demanded.
Netanyahu would agree “to a Palestinian state on 86% of the territory,” said Elkin, according to Maariv.” The prime minister would not consent to the division of Jerusalem, Elkin added, “but Tzipi Livni would.” Livni, leader of the Hatnua party, will be heading Israel’s team to the negotiations.
However, Elkin, who opposes Palestinian statehood, went on to note that the Palestinians had rejected Ariel Sharon’s idea, and had always indicated that they insisted on attaining 100% of the West Bank, with very limited land swaps on a one-for-one basis, to enable Israel to maintain only what he called “settlement strings” rather than settlement blocs.
The Orthodox Elkin, who lives at the Kfar Eldad settlement in the Etzion Bloc south of Jerusalem, said that, thus far, “the Lord… has solved our problems via the Arabs. [Yasser] Arafat didn’t accept [former prime minister Ehud] Barak’s offers,” and Abbas didn’t accept former prime minister Ehud Olmert’s proposals, he said. “But if the Palestinians, heaven forbid, were to show flexibility and come toward us, we’d get a lousy deal… On the 86% of the territory they’d get, they would build a terror state… But the fact is that the Palestinians haven’t budged a millimeter” in their demands for 100% of the West Bank.”
Netanyahu, who has expressed support in principle for a Palestinian state, has not specified how much West Bank territory he would be prepared to relinquish in negotiations. He has reportedly said he would seek to drive a harder bargain than his predecessor Olmert.