J'lem seeks Bush okay for IDF free hand in W. Bank
Israel is seeking to reach an understanding with the U.S. administration that would safeguard Israel's security interests in a future final-status agreement with the Palestinians and during current negotiations, government sources have said.
The sources also said Israel is seeking President George W. Bush's support for its security demands so that such understandings can serve as a basis for the work of the American special security envoy General James Jones, who has been tasked with formulating the security arrangements for an Israeli-Palestinian agreement.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is to discuss these security issues with Bush during the president's visit here next week.
At the heart of Israel's demands is that it remain free to act against terror in the West Bank for as long as negotiations last, and that demilitarization arrangements place limitations on the future Palestinian state.
Discussions with administration officials on this issue began even before the Annapolis summit, during the visit of the Israeli delegation to Washington.
Yesterday Olmert called a meeting ahead of the Bush visit with Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. Barak presented the security demands in detail and Livni discussed the importance of demilitarizing the areas that Israel would evacuate in the future.
Israel wants to maintain effective military superiority in the territories during the talks, and ensure that it has the freedom to act against terror organizations in Gaza. "It is inconceivable that we would be prevented from continuing the extraordinary achievement against terror in the West Bank," a source said.
"In the previous year no Israeli was killed within the Green Line from an attack that came from the West Bank. In the West Bank, four people were killed. In the South, it is true that quiet has not yet returned to Sderot, but we are carrying out an effective and focused offensive there. Hundreds of terrorists were killed last year."
Israel would like the U.S. to agree to a number of limitations on the future Palestinian state's sovereignty. Israel wants Palestine to be completely demilitarized, and for Israel to be able to fly over Palestinian air space. Border crossings would be monitored by Israel in such a way that the symbols of Palestinian sovereignty would not be compromised, but Israel would know who was coming and going.
Israel is to propose the deployment of an international force in the West Bank and along the Philadelphi Route in Rafah, and would ask that a permanent Israel Defense Forces presence remain for an extended period in the Jordan Valley.
Jordan Valley 'tripwire force'
According to Israel's plan, a small Israeli force would be stationed in the Jordan Valley as a "tripwire force" that would act as a deterrent. Israel would also demand Palestinian agreement that in the case of an emergency Israel could deploy in essential areas of the West Bank to thwart a threat of invasion from the East.
Such a deployment would only take place under extreme circumstances, but including it in the agreement would ensure that the Palestinians would not object if the time came when it was needed.
Under ordinary circumstances the West Bank would be completely demilitarized, with only internal Palestinian security forces on duty.
The Barak government reached agreement with the Clinton administration on a number of security issues with regard to a future accord with the Palestinians. However, monitoring border crossings and a long-term IDF presence in the Jordan Valley was not among them. The Palestinians vehemently opposed the security steps Israel wanted, such as the emergency IDF deployment in the West Bank, which they saw as damaging to their independence and sovereignty.
Israel now seeks to reopen the discussion in the hope that Bush will support its demands.
According to government and security sources, "in most of the issues involving the agreement with the Palestinians, Israel is the one being asked to give tangible things. The only area in which we have real demands from the Palestinians is that of security arrangements. Therefore it is important that the talks have the proper outline so that Israel can insist on its security demands and the Palestinians will not dilute them."