- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 21, 2010

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is demanding that Israeli troops remain on the border of a future Palestinian state with neighboring Jordan, further antagonizing the Palestinians at a time when they are already threatening to walk out of peace talks.

The negotiations, which resumed this month in Washington after a two-year breakdown, are foundering over Palestinian demands that Israel extend a curb on Jewish construction in the West Bank. That curb, in place for 10 months, is set to expire Sunday.

Lt. Gen. Gabi AshkenaziIsrael’s military chief, told lawmakers on Tuesday that the military was preparing for possible clashes between Israelis and Palestinians should the negotiations run aground.

Resolution of the settlement building dispute is critical to the fate of the peace talks because the Palestinians say they won’t negotiate unless the construction slowdown continues.

For Mr. Netanyahu, the cardinal factor for Israel in any peace deal is the Jewish state’s security. He has contended that Israel must maintain a troop presence along the border with Jordan to keep Palestinian militants from smuggling in weapons to the West Bank after a peace deal is reached.

On Monday, Mr. Netanyahu drove home this position in great detail — angering the Palestinians, who flatly reject the idea as an infringement of their prospective sovereignty. They have proposed that an international force be deployed instead.

“I don’t believe that under these circumstances, international troops will do the job,” Mr. Netanyahu said in a conference call with U.S. Jewish leaders. “The only force that can be relied on to defend the Jewish people is the Israeli Defense Force.”

That will never happen, said Palestinian spokesman Husam Zomlot, adding that “not one Israeli soldier” will be permitted to remain in a future Palestinian state.

“An international presence will be able to monitor and enforce security once the political situation has been sorted (out),” Mr. Zomlot said.

Gen. Ashkenazi underscored concerns of possible violence should the talks falter.

“The Palestinians have sober expectations that something positive will come out of the talks,” he told parliament’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, according to a participant in the meeting. “The level of expectations will produce a similar level of disappointment (should talks fail).”

Gen. Ashkenazi said that the military was planning for this scenario and a possible eruption of violence, but that he didn’t expect violence to reach the levels of 2000 — when a Palestinian campaign of suicide bombings and shooting attacks broke out after the collapse of peace talks.

Gen. Ashkenazi added that tensions could rise as well among Jewish settlers, who are hoping for a resumption of settlement construction, the participant said.

The participant spoke on condition of anonymity, according to parliamentary protocol.

Under intense U.S. pressure, Israel agreed in November to curb West Bank settlement construction to help lure the Palestinians back to the negotiating table. Mr. Netanyahu maintains that his coalition government, dominated by hard-line parties that champion settlement-building, would be fractured if the slowdown were to be extended.

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