Israel, Palestinians still at odds over borders ahead of talks

JERUSALEM Sat Jul 20, 2013 5:40pm EDT

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks during a news conference at Queen Alia International Airport in the Jordanian capital of Amman July 19, 2013. REUTERS/Mandel Ngan/Pool

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks during a news conference at Queen Alia International Airport in the Jordanian capital of Amman July 19, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Mandel Ngan/Pool

Related Video

Related Topics

Photo

MH17 crash site

The aftermath of the Malaysian airliner crash.  Slideshow 

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel will not bow to the Palestinians' demand on the borders of their future state before peace talks begin but will meet their request for the release of some prisoners, Israeli officials said on Saturday.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Friday that Israel and the Palestinians had laid the groundwork to resume talks after an almost three-year stalemate, but that the deal was not final and required more diplomacy.

Remarks made on Saturday by Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon and Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz suggest the sides still face major stumbling blocks before negotiations can resume, however.

Yaalon said in a statement that Israel "had insisted it would enter negotiations with no preconditions which included the Palestinian demand on the 1967 borders ... and that is exactly what is happening now."

The Palestinians say the talks must be about establishing a future state in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, with borders approximating the boundaries that existed before Israel captured those territories in a 1967 war.

Steinitz said there had been no Israeli concession on that point nor on the Palestinian demand that Israel halt all construction of settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.

"There is no chance that we will agree to enter any negotiations that begin with defining territorial borders or concessions by Israel, nor a construction freeze," he said.

A senior Palestinian official with knowledge of the talks suggested the Palestinians would not back down. "Our position remains clear: resumption of negotiations should be based on the two-state solution and on the 1967 borders."

Kerry said on Friday that the deal between Israel and the Palestinians to resume negotiations was still being "formalized" but that negotiators for both sides could begin talks in Washington "within the next week or so".

In his first public comments since Kerry's announcement, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed the apparent progress but did not indicate what steps Israel would take to ensure that the talks resume, if any.

"The resumption of the peace process at this time is a vital strategic interest of Israel. It is important in itself to try and end the conflict between us and the Palestinians and it is important in light of the challenges we face from Iran and Syria," Netanyahu said in a statement on Saturday.

Israeli lawmaker Tzachi Hanegbi, a confidant of Netanyahu, suggested the United States could have found a formula that would avoid the 1967 border issue torpedoing resumption of negotiations.

"The talks should be possible when both sides feel they have not conceded their basic positions. The Americans are entitled to say whatever they want. For instance, they could say that they think the talks should be based on the 1967 borders, but that this does not bind us," Hanegbi told Israel Radio.

"I suppose they will also say that the goal of the negotiations is to reach a deal in which the Palestinians recognize Israel as Jewish state, something that at least at the moment the Palestinians are unwilling to accept," Hanegbi said.

PRISONERS

Palestinians have also long demanded that Israel free prisoners held since before 1993, when the two sides signed the Oslo Accords - an interim deal intended to lead to the establishment of a Palestinian state.

"In all meetings held by President Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) with minister Kerry and others, the Palestinian demand to release the prisoners topped the agenda," said Abbas's spokesman, Nabil Abu Rdaineh. "Freeing prisoners is a Palestinian priority that should precede any agreement.

Steinitz indicated that some of those who would be released had been convicted of violent crimes against Israelis.

"There will be some release of prisoners," Steinitz told Israel Radio. "I don't want to give numbers but there will be heavyweight prisoners who have been in jail for tens of years ... it will not be simple, but we will make that gesture." Steinitz said. "

The release would be carried out in phases, he added. It was unclear if any prisoners would be released before talks began. Some Israeli officials have said prisoners would only be freed after negotiations were underway.

There are 103 pre-Oslo prisoners in Israeli jails, according to the Palestinian Prisoners Club, a Palestinian body that looks after the interests of inmates and their families.

Israeli and Palestinian officials told Reuters on Friday the talks would take months to unfold. Steinitz said the Palestinians had agreed to enter talks that would take between nine months to a year.

He said this would stop the Palestinians from taking unilateral steps at the U.N. General Assembly in September, when they had planned to seek recognition for their statehood in the absence of direct talks with Israel.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy told a news conference on Saturday: "We support serious talks to take place with a set and precise time frame."

Kerry's drive to relaunch the peace talks was endorsed this week by the Arab League, which potentially holds out the prospect of a broader regional peace with Israel upon the establishment of a Palestinian state.

The Arab League's own peace proposals, launched over a decade ago, foundered on the issue of a return to 1967 borders, but it confirmed on Wednesday it had shifted its position to countenance "limited exchange of territory of the same value and size."

Such a formula could allow Israel to keep large settlement blocs it has said should remain in Israeli hands in any future peace deal.

(Additional reporting by Ali Sawafta in Ramallah, Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza; and Yasmine Saleh in Cairo; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

FILED UNDER:
We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/
Comments (17)
hi53241 wrote:
“A Palestinian official says President Mahmoud Abbas agreed to restart peace talks with Israel only after receiving a letter from the U.S. secretary of state guaranteeing that the basis of the negotiations will be Israel’s pre-1967 borders.”

We can now officially declare this “round of talks” over, never going to happen with that as a starting point.

Jul 20, 2013 2:34pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
Reuters1945 wrote:
“Israel, Palestinians still at odds over borders ahead of talks”

The Palestinians have stated ad nauseam that their future state must have borders approximating the boundaries of those territories before Israel captured them in a 1967 Middle East War.

Note the use of the word “must” as if the Arabs were holding all the Aces and a Straight Flush.

If five Arab nations had not attempted to annihilate the comparatively tiny State of Israel in 1967, then the Arabs would still be in full control of the territories they lost as a result of the 1967 war.

Imagine if a bank robber who was apprehended by the police said to the presiding Judge: “But your Honor I did not succeed in the attempted bank heist and thus you should drop all the charges against me as if nothing ever happened”.

That is how preposterous the demands of the PLO sound to any rational human being.

Every time the Arab nations have attacked Israel they have lost something. But they never learn from their mistakes apparently.

Actions have consequences. Especially if annihilating a people’s right to exist is a component of those actions.

The United Nations voted in 1947, before the birth of Israel, to give the Arabs permanent control of fully 50 % of British Mandate Palestine.

But it was not enough for the Arabs. They wanted 100 % and attempted to drive the Jews of Palestine into the sea in 1947-1948.

They rolled the dice then and they rolled the dice over and over again in war after war since then. And always with the same result. They always lost something.

When you repeat the same action over and over, but always get the same result, some people would say that attitude reflects some form of insanity.

If Middle East history is any guide, the Arabs will continue to make the same types of decisions and absurd demands regarding the State of Israel which they have made for half a century.

One day they might even look back and realize they should have accepted the 1947 offer of the United Nations to control fully half of what is now present day Israel.

Just imagine. The Palestinians could have already had their own Palestinian State for the past 65 years which the UN offered to them in 1947, on a Silver Platter and which was fully agreeable to the Jews at the time.

But it is doubtful the average Palestinian is even allowed to know about that 1947 UN Resolution to create a Palestinian State existing along side a Jewish State.

While the PLO struts and rants about what it will demand in any Washington meetings, the Leaders of Hamas in Gaza continue to rant about how they will never recognize Israel’s “Right to exist” and are Sworn to Israel’s ultimate destruction.

The clock is ticking away on any chances the PLO might have to salvage something, anything- from all their past mistakes. But they are deaf and perhaps even a little dumb.

You cannot help people who are their own worst enemy.

Jul 20, 2013 2:44pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
MikeBarnett wrote:
The main problem for Israel is that its post-1967 settlements on the West Bank Palestinian lands are war crimes. The World Court has ruled that any country gaining land through military action may not remove the inhabitants and settle citizens of the victorious power on the conquered territories. This is ethnic cleansing whether the previous inhabitants are killed or not. The World Court can issue arrest warrants for Israeli officials who allow settlements in the West Bank, Gaza, or the Golan Heights, based on the borders prior to the 1967 war. Israel can be required to remove its citizens from Palestinian lands or face arrest warrants and/or international economic sanctions. Countries that willfully violate those sanctions, such as the US, can have sanctions imposed on them as well.

Jul 20, 2013 3:10pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.