Palestinians signal flexibility on security

‘Any’ choice of third-party forces by Israel called OK for new state

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Palestinian leaders told the Obama administration they are ready to accept nearly any security arrangements for a Palestinian state demanded by Israel, according to a senior official of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).

“We will accept any arrangement short of Israeli military presence on the soil of a future Palestinian state,” said Maen Rashid Areikat, the PLO’s chief U.S. representative, in an interview with The Washington Times.

Other than an Israeli troop presence, he said, “we are willing to discuss with the Israelis whatever arrangements that can achieve the same objectives that the Israelis desire in the area of security, but with the involvement of third parties in this area - Americans, a combination of forces, United Nations, NATO. Whatever is acceptable to the Israelis, we will not have a problem.”

The Palestinian position came in the form of “an official offer” to the Obama administration and was passed on to Israel, he said.

Israel’s security concerns have long complicated its efforts to reach a final agreement with the Palestinians. Successive Israeli governments have demanded, among other things, that the Jewish state retain a long-term military presence in the Jordan Valley, the strategic swath of land along the Jordanian border that Israelis fear could become a smuggling route for rockets and other armaments.

According to Israeli media reports, however, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said Sunday that he had finalized an agreement on security matters in 2008 with then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert a deal, he said, that would involve an U.S.-led NATO presence in the Palestinian state.

Palestinians left recently launched direct talks after the expiration of Israel’s 10-month settlement moratorium and the subsequent failure of the U.S. to induce Israel to extend it.

Whether current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has said that he is not bound by Mr. Olmert’s concessions, would even accept an agreement reached by his predecessor on security particularly without provisions for an Israeli presence in the Jordan Valley remains in doubt.

“We cannot rely on foreign forces,” said Yossi Kuperwasser, deputy director general of Israel’s Strategic Affairs Ministry, who said that “an Israeli presence in the Jordan Valley needs to be part of any agreement.”

Netanyahu doesn’t say how long the presence should last,” Mr. Kuperwasser added. “But this, of course, is a matter for discussions.”

Mr. Netanyahu also has conditioned his support for a Palestinian state on demilitarization, reiterating the long-standing Israeli demand that the Palestinians not be allowed to build an army.

The PLO’s Mr. Areikat objected to the word “demilitarization,” saying “there is no such thing in international law.” But he expressed support for the concept of a Palestinian state with “limited military capabilities,” citing the restrictions placed upon Germany and Japan after World War II.

“What we are saying is that we will not possess offensive capabilities,” Mr. Areikat said. “The armaments, the military structure that we will have will only be to protect our people, to provide security for our people and for our borders, and to be able to maintain law and order in our future state.

“We don’t want to have an air force, we don’t want to have ships, we don’t want to have submarines. We don’t want to spend our resources on an arms race. We’d rather spend that money on developing and building our future state.”

He said the planned Palestinian security service would be “a National Guard-style thing.”

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About the Author

Ben Birnbaum

Ben Birnbaum is a reporter covering foreign affairs for The Washington Times. Prior to joining The Times, Birnbaum worked as a reporter-researcher at the New Republic. A Boston-area native, he graduated magna cum laude from Cornell University with a degree in government and psychology. He won multiple collegiate journalism awards for his articles and columns in the Cornell Daily Sun.

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