Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Ambassador Oren: Israel still insists on US security guarantees before Palestinian Border pact

(Bloomberg).Israel will insist on security guarantees before agreeing on borders of a future Palestinian state or halting Jewish settlements, Israeli Ambassador to Washington Michael Oren told Bloomberg News.

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With the U.S. reviving shuttle diplomacy in the Middle East, “the deeper our sense of security, the more flexibility we can show,” Oren said yesterday in an interview on Bloomberg Television. “Keep in mind that we are looking at a Palestinian state that is going to be right opposite our major cities, right opposite Tel Aviv, right opposite our major airport. We’re taking some immense risks here.”

President Barack Obama’s administration on Dec. 7 abandoned an effort to revive direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. The administration had offered Israel 20 advanced fighter jets as an incentive to freeze Jewish settlements in the West Bank, a Palestinian demand.

Oren said the deal fell apart because Palestinians refused to accept a settlement freeze that didn’t include Jerusalem. Nevertheless, he said Israel still expects to acquire the additional Lockheed Martin Corp. F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, on top of 20 already ordered. The jets “are very much on the table,” he said.

Oren said that security guarantees are paramount and must be agreed upon before any deal over land.

To Israel, “settlements are a subcategory of territory; territory is a subcategory of security".

While “two states for two people” is the Israeli government’s goal, Oren said, those states “wouldn’t follow the borders of the pre-1967 situation, because those were not defensible borders.” Following the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, Israel took control of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, the Sinai Peninsula, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. The Sinai Peninsula was returned to Egypt after it made peace with and recognized the Jewish state.

Oren said Israel fears a “nightmare scenario” where the country is attacked from the East, and is particularly concerned about the porous border between a future Palestinian state and Jordan. Israel wants “a continued Israeli Army presence along that border. It could be phased. It could be reviewed every couple of years to see how things are going,” he said.

Israel also couldn’t survive the return of Palestinians who claim refugee status, Oren said.

“We can’t discuss security without discussing refugees,” he said, referring to what he estimated at 8 million descendants of Palestinians displaced with the creation of Israel in 1948. “Their return would turn Israel into a de facto Palestinian state.”

Oren said efforts by the Palestinians to seek unilateral recognition of an independent state by the UN, South American nations or others “is a disaster. It’s not going to bring about security for anybody.”

Oren criticized the Palestinians as “great experts at getting to ‘no’,” in peace talks. To change that, “someone will have to go down in Palestinian history as the person who made peace with the Jews,” and he hopes that person is Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority.