- Associated Press - Sunday, January 23, 2011

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel‘s foreign minister is putting together an interim peace plan that would grant the Palestinians limited independence in an attempt to blunt their efforts to win international recognition of an independent state, a government official Sunday.

The Palestinians rejected the notion of a provisional state as a “publicity stunt” and urged Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman to work instead to achieve a final peace deal.

Mr. Lieberman has been an outspoken skeptic of current peace efforts, saying conditions are not ripe for an agreement. Yet at the same time, Israel is widely seen as being responsible for the current impasse in talks with the Palestinians and is under heavy international pressure to help find a new way forward.

Under the emerging Lieberman plan, Israel would turn over from 45 percent to 50 percent of the West Bank to the provisional state, though additional land could be transferred to Palestinian control in the course of future negotiations, the official said. He spoke on condition of anonymity because the plan is not fully formed.

The Haaretz daily said Mr. Lieberman has presented a map to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but the prime minister’s office would not confirm the report.

Netanyahu spokesman Mark Regev said the Israeli leader remains committed to a final accord resolving the decades-old dispute between the two sides. But in a recent interview, Mr. Netanyahu said he might seek a short-term deal if the negotiations deadlock continues.

Mr. Lieberman, leader of the ultranationalist Yisrael Beiteinu Party, repeatedly has called for a long-term interim agreement between the sides.

The Palestinians claim the Gaza Strip, West Bank and east Jerusalem — areas captured and occupied by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war — for an independent state.

In recent months, they have tried to rally international recognition of a state in these territories. The Palestinians launched that initiative after concluding that talks with Israel were unlikely to yield a hoped-for state. Mr. Lieberman’s plan is an attempt to counter the Palestinian strategy.

Negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians on a final accord collapsed in September after an Israeli freeze on settlement construction expired.

The Palestinians say they won’t return to the negotiating table unless Israel halts all construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. Settlements, they say, cement the Israeli presence in the West Bank and chip away at a future Paelstinian state.

Some 500,000 Jewish settlers have moved to the West Bank and east Jerusalem in the past 43 years. Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, and the territory is now ruled by the Hamas militant group.

The Palestinian Authority was set up on the basis of an interim peace agreement in 1994. Nine years later, Palestinian leaders agreed to the concept of a provisional state when they endorsed the “road map” peace plan advanced by the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations.

But with peacemaking languishing, the Palestinians have turned their backs on that approach, fearing provisional borders could become final frontiers.

“The option of provisional borders or an interim agreement is no longer on the table,” senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat said. “I urge Lieberman not to fight the emergence of a Palestinian state, because it’s coming.”

The proposal is “a publication relations stunt, to throw the ball in our court,” Mr. Erekat added.

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