Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s opening positions in the failed talks in Amman with the Palestinians last month was not that different than the ones then-Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni presented in 2008, according to former Israeli officials.
At the fifth and last session of the Amman talks, Netanyahu’s representative Isaac Molho presented the following principles: Borders would be drawn to so that Israel retained the greatest number of Israelis and the smallest number of Palestinians; Israel would annex the major settlement blocs, although these blocs were not defined; only after borders were defined would the more complex issue of Jerusalem be discussed; and Israel would maintain an unspecified presence in the Jordan Valley for an unspecificed period.
There were five rounds of talks in Amman, which started after heavy international pressure was brought to bear on Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas following his speech to the UN General Assembly on September 23 last year.
The principles were presented on January 25, a day before the deadline on which the Palestinians threatened to call a halt to the talks if they did not receive Israel’s position on borders.
According to a senior Israeli official, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat asked during that meeting for clarifications regarding the Jordan Valley. Molho directed him to the prime minister’s speech at the opening of the Knesset’s summer session and his speech to Congress in May 2011. In both speeches, Netanyahu spoke of Israeli military presence along the Jordan River, but did not demand that Israel maintain sovereignty in the valley.
Erekat reportedly asked what would happen if the Palestinians did not agree to that situation, and Molho replied “Do you prefer that we annex the Valley?”
In another session, on January 9, Molho asked Erekat whether the Palestinians would allow Israeli settlements to remain in a Palestinian state. “Erekat told us that he preferred not to relate to the question, and in fact to this day we have not received an answer,” a senior Israeli official said.
Molho did not specify the size of the area from which Israel would be willing to withdraw, but according to the principles he presented, they are similar or identical to the opening positions Livni presented in 2008, after the Annapolis summit.
Although Netanyahu does not admit it, the significance of these opening positions would be withdrawal and forfeiting Israeli sovereignty over at least 90 percent of the West Bank.
“We raised the possibility of leaving settlements in the Palestinian state at Annapolis as well,” an official involved in the 2008 talks said.
Erekat asked at the end of the fifth meeting for additional clarifications: Would Israel accept the 1967 lines as a basis for negotiations; would Israel accept the principle of a territorial swap and what percentage of the West Bank would Israel seek to annex; does Israel have a map of proposed borders; would Israel want to evacuate isolated settlements; and other questions.
“I will be glad to give you answers to all the questions at our next meeting,” Molho told Erekat.
But there was to be no next meeting. A day later, the Palestinians announced that they would not go back to the talks unless Israel halted construction in the settlements and agreed to the principle of negotiations based on the 1967 borders.
Sources in Israel concede that the talks are over for now and no renewal is in sight, especially in light of the reconciliation talks in Doha between Abbas and the Hamas political chief Khaled Meshal.
“For three or four years, Abbas ran from the talks, and in the Amman talks he did it again,” a senior Israeli official said. “We were willing to make gestures and presented a whole package, but the Palestinians simply didn’t want it. More and more international figures realize that we were not the ones who caused the talks to fail. This may be seen from the Jordanians’ silence − they are not blaming Israel for anything,” the official said.
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