- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 23, 2012

Israeli and Palestinian officials Thursday offered competing interpretations of an Israeli proposal for Palestinian statehood, with the prospect of renewed peace talks drifting further away.

Negotiators from both sides met five times last month for Jordanian-sponsored talks aimed at resuming formal negotiations.

According to the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, Israel presented a series of border principles that “effectively means a withdrawal from 90 percent of the West Bank,” a proposal similar to those made by former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni at the 2008 Annapolis Conference.

The principles call for Israel’s annexation of large West Bank settlement blocs, but not the Jordan Valley.

In phone interviews Thursday, two Israelis officials told The Washington Times that the Ha’aretz report was accurate.

“We’re talking about giving over territory in the ninety-percent [range],” said one official. “[The negotiators] gave the Palestinians a fairly good idea of where Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyhau’s mind is at, which isn’t many miles away from what Tzipi Livni and Ehud Olmert were prepared to offer at Annapolis.”

A second Israeli official said the Palestinians had shunned the offer rather than using it to restart negotiations. “It’s not a final proposal,” he said. “This is the beginning of negotiations.”

But Nabil Shaath, commissioner of foreign relations for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas‘ Fatah party, said the Israelis never presented any maps, percentages or documents.

“This is all really game play,” he said. “If they wanted to say 90 percent, they should’ve said 90 percent.”

Mr. Shaath said that Mr. Netanyahu’s chief negotiator Isaac Molho called for Israeli settlements to remain in a Palestinian state.

“He talked about the economic and social texture that was created by settlements that should be extended,” Mr. Shaath said. “This whole thing is totally ignored by the Ha’aretz genius.”

Mr. Shaath said the Palestinians had presented a map — first offered in 2008 negotiations — that would involve Israel annexing 1.9 percent of the West Bank and ceding an equivalent amount of Israeli territory.

Israeli officials say the map, which would require Israel’s evacuation of large settlements, is a non-starter.

The sides also offered different views on Mr. Netanyahu’s demand for a long-term Israeli military presence in the Jordan Valley.

Israeli officials have said they are not seeking to annex the Valley. But Palestinian officials fear that Israel would use the pretext of threats from the east to keep a permanent presence there.

“Now it’s Iran, but it used to be Iraq,” said Mr. Shaath. “When Netanyahu talked to [Mr. Abbas] in Washington in 2010, he was talking about his fear of the crumbling of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.”

Palestinian officials have agreed to host an international force under a final-status deal.

Israeli officials say they have been chastened by the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon, which has failed to prevent the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah from re-arming since its 2006 war with Israel.

“We in Israel have absolutely zero positive experience with international observer forces,” an Israeli official said.

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