Israel’s negotiating team in peace talks with the Palestinians is reportedly facing an internal disagreement on the issue of Jerusalem, with chief negotiator MK Tzipi Livni demonstrating a more flexible approach than that of lawyer Yitzhak Molcho, the special envoy appointed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Livni and Molcho don’t always present a united front during the negotiations, leading to confusion on the Palestinian side as to Israel’s official position, according to details of the talks published by Yedioth Ahronoth and Israel Radio on Tuesday.
The reports came days after Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas warned that the talks had hit a logjam, though the US State Department said Monday that the talks are “making progress.”
The two Israeli negotiators recently differed over the size of a proposed “neutral zone” in Jerusalem between Israel and a potential Palestinian state, an area which would have open access to citizens from both countries, according to the report.
Molcho reportedly sought to keep the area to an absolute minimum and contain it within East Jerusalem, while Livni expressed a more open position on the issue, which could imply the possibility that some areas of East Jerusalem could be put under Palestinian control.
An official from the Prime Minister’s Office denied on Tuesday the details on the report.
“Israel has made it clear to the Palestinians that Jerusalem will remain united with the present borders under Israeli sovereignty,” Israel Radio reported the official saying.
Livni’s office on Tuesday refused to comment on the report of a spat between the negotiators and stressed that Livni and Molcho enjoyed “full cooperation and coordination” during the talks.
Israel will “not publicly speak about the talks, so that they will be successful,” a Livni spokesperson said in a statement.
US Secretary of State John Kerry was due to arrive in Israel on Tuesday evening and was expected to meet with both Israeli and Palestinian officials on the state of the peace negotiations.
On Monday, the State Department denied that talks were stalled and that the US would put forward its own peace plan, as had been reported.
“The two sides are engaged in negotiations,” spokesperson Mary Harf said. “We’ve seen each side take positive steps towards that end.”
The issues of final borders, security and Jerusalem are all separate discussions under the system developed by the two sides, who have met 15 times for meetings of 3-4 hours each since the start of the US-backed negotiations earlier this year.
Israel is basing its border negotiations on the starting point of the 1967 borders plus land swaps, and the team is negotiating to ensure that the West Bank settlement blocs inside the security fence will remain inside Israel, as well as secure Israeli control over some larger, isolated settlements and mountain peaks in the West Bank, according to details of the talks published by Yedioth.
On Monday, Abbas said that despite all the meetings, “there hasn’t been any advancement in the talks with the Israelis.” Responding to Israel’s approval of 1,700 apartment units over the Green Line earlier in the week, Abbas said “the Israelis justify the expansion of settlements by releasing prisoners. They link the two issues, [and such linkage] is likely to bring about the termination of the talks, without results.”
Earlier the same day, Palestinian media quoted senior PLO official Yasser Abed Rabbo as saying that Israel was not engaging earnestly in peace talks with the PA. “There is one party negotiating, and that is us, while the other party is not proposing anything that goes in line with international legitimacy and law,” Abed Rabbo told Voice of Palestine radio.