Monday, August 1, 2011

Progress in US-Israel deal on framework to resume peace talks

Prime minister Netanyahu has agreed to negotiate the borders of a Palestinian state based on the cease-fire line that marks off the West Bank, Channel 2 TV station reported Monday.

According to the report, Netanyahu has agreed to consider beginning negotiations that would include land swaps by both sides on the condition that the Palestinians drop a bid to be recognized as an independent state by the U. N. General Assembly next month.

“We are willing in a framework of restarting the peace talks to accept a proposal that would contain elements that would be difficult for Israel and we would find very difficult to endorse,” an anonymous Israeli official told the AP.

According to a report on Israeli public radio, Netanyahu put his position in writing - expressing in a document that he is not willing to return to the borders that predate the Arab-Israeli war of 1967 and will insist that demographic changes - meaning Jewish settlement of the West Bank - since then be taken into account.

When questioned by Agence France Presse, a senior Israeli official, who requested anonymity, confirmed that “Israel is ready to be flexible regarding efforts to resume a direct dialogue with the Palestinians.”

The official added that “Israel did not dismiss the American proposals aimed at establishing the future borders” of a Palestinian state.

Pm Netanyahu appearing before the Foreign affairs and defense committee hinted at such deal gaining progress:

"we are interacting with the US to put together a document [for an agreement with the Palestinians] using language from [US President Barack] Obama's second speech, Such a document would say that final borders would not be on pre-1967 lines".

Based on previous reports, its believed that in exchange for such a formula, President Obama will restore in writing President Bush' letter to PM Sharon in 2004, stating that the final peace settlement between Israel and the Palestinians should reflect “new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli population centers,” and that “it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949.”..

UPDATE: in a matter of fact Yisrael Hayom newspapers reports: Netanyahu: Obama administration ratified the guarantees of the Bush letter • meaning - no return to '67 borders.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Monday that he had reached a written agreement with the Obama administration according to which Israel would not be required to return to the 1967 borders in any future peace deal with the Palestinians. In addition, any future peace talks would take into account established "realities on the ground" - a term generally used in reference to Israel's large settlement blocs of Ariel, Maale Adumim and Gush Etzion.

Netanyahu's statements would mean an effective American ratification of a letter sent in 2004 by former U.S. President George W. Bush to former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon which guaranteed that the settlement blocs would remain a part of Israel in any future peace agreement with the Palestinians. The current administration, under President Barack Obama, has not publicly endorsed Bush's letter to Sharon. In 2009, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said there was no acknowledgment of any such agreement in the official negotiating record between Israel and the Bush administration. "There is no memorialization of any informal and oral agreements. If they did occur, which of course people say they did, they did not become part of the official position of the U.S. government," Clinton said.

The current U.S. administration has recently made it clear to Israel that Obama's position is in line with the second speech he delivered at the AIPAC conference in May 2011 -- in which he clarified that the U.S. believes negotiations should be based on 1967 borders with mutually agreed land swaps and not the borders that existed on June 4, 1967 -- and not his first speech, to which Netanyahu reacted angrily.

The Prime Minister's Office now views the agreement with the Obama Administration as an achievement.

The document was prepared prior to the Quartet meeting in early July, during which the Americans and Europeans tried to relaunch negotiations ahead of a unilateral Palestinian declaration of statehood at the United Nations in September. The Quartet had been hoping to issue a statement saying that negotiations would be based on the 1967 borders framework articulated in Obama's speech, together with recognition of Israel as a Jewish state -- implying that the Palestinians would forego the right of return for refugees. However, the Palestinians rejected the draft and no statement was issued.

Prime Minister's Office spokesman Gidi Shmerling clarified on Monday night that the understanding with the U.S. does not include an Israeli agreement to return to the 1967 borders. Rather, the U.S. has acknowledged that any future talks would take into consideration the changes on the ground as well as Israel's security concerns.