US representatives in peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians offered Ramallah a “lease” deal for West Bank settlements that lie outside the major settlement blocs. The Palestinian Authority rejected such a deal outright.
Palestinian sources who spoke to The Times of Israel Friday said the offer referred to large settlements, particularly those in the area of Ramallah, including Eli, Ofra and Beit El. Other sources, however, claimed that the proposal referred to all settlements outside the major blocs, including those that are considered isolated.
Israel is expected to retain major settlement blocs in any eventual deal based on 1967 lines with land swaps.
The objective of the proposal was to leave the settlements as a sort of Israeli territory, in the heart of a Palestinian state, without having the area considered part of the State of Israel. This way, Israel would not need to uproot settlements that are home to tens of thousands of people outside the blocs.
The idea, according to senior Palestinian sources, was presented as an “American thought,” even though it was clear to the Palestinian negotiating team that it had originated on the Israeli side.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said that he has no intention to forcibly evacuate settlers from the West Bank. “I do not intend to remove a single settlement, [and] I do not intend to displace a single Israeli,” he said earlier this month at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. An official in Netanyahu’s office on Sunday told The Times of Israel that Netanyahu wanted settlers in non-Israeli-sovereign areas to have the choice — to stay put under Palestinian rule or move to locations under Israeli rule.
The Prime Minister’s Office later attempted to characterize Netanyahu’s position as supposed spin meant to elicit a “No” from the Palestinians that would enable Israel to portray Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas as rejecting possible peace terms. But Israel’s central idea, according to the same senior Palestinian officials, wasn’t to leave the settlements under Palestinian sovereignty, but rather to lease them for a period of several decades.
The exact time frame wasn’t settled, but it was clear that a period of more than 50 years was being discussed. In exchange, the PA would have been compensated financially.
The Palestinians categorically rejected the idea. The PA took an unequivocal position on the issue during negotiations: if the settlers would like to remain on land belonging to a state of Palestine, they must do so as Palestinian citizens for all purposes, who abide by the laws of the new state.