US offered Palestinians a lease deal for isolated settlements

US offered Palestinians a lease deal for isolated settlements

Palestinian sources tell The Times of Israel that a time frame of several decades was discussed; PA categorically rejected idea

Avi Issacharoff

Avi Issacharoff, The Times of Israel's Middle East analyst, fills the same role for Walla, the leading portal in Israel. He is also a guest commentator on many different radio shows and current affairs programs on television. Until 2012, he was a reporter and commentator on Arab affairs for the Haaretz newspaper. He also lectures on modern Palestinian history at Tel Aviv University, and is currently writing a script for an action-drama series for the Israeli satellite Television "YES." Born in Jerusalem, he graduated cum laude from Ben Gurion University with a B.A. in Middle Eastern studies and then earned his M.A. from Tel Aviv University on the same subject, also cum laude. A fluent Arabic speaker, Avi was the Middle East Affairs correspondent for Israeli Public Radio covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the war in Iraq and the Arab countries between the years 2003-2006. Avi directed and edited short documentary films on Israeli television programs dealing with the Middle East. In 2002 he won the "best reporter" award for the "Israel Radio” for his coverage of the second intifada. In 2004, together with Amos Harel, he wrote "The Seventh War - How we won and why we lost the war with the Palestinians." A year later the book won an award from the Institute for Strategic Studies for containing the best research on security affairs in Israel. In 2008, Issacharoff and Harel published their second book, entitled "34 Days - The Story of the Second Lebanon War," which won the same prize.

A man waves a Palestinian flag waves near the West Bank settlement of Ofra, near Ramallah (photo credit: Issam Rimawi/Flash90)
A man waves a Palestinian flag waves near the West Bank settlement of Ofra, near Ramallah (photo credit: Issam Rimawi/Flash90)

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.

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