Israel's Netanyahu hardens settlement demands in peace talks: report

JERUSALEM Thu Jan 16, 2014 9:46am EST

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) delivers a speech during a session marking the 65th anniversary of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, in Jerusalem January 14, 2014, at the beginning of the second winter session of the Knesset. REUTERS/Baz Ratner

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) delivers a speech during a session marking the 65th anniversary of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, in Jerusalem January 14, 2014, at the beginning of the second winter session of the Knesset.

Credit: Reuters/Baz Ratner

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JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel's prime minister has increased the amount of occupied territory he wants to keep after any peace deal with the Palestinians, Israeli radio reported on Thursday, a move that could complicate U.S.-backed efforts to reach an accord.

Benjamin Netanyahu's spokesman declined to comment on the report that he had added a bloc of Israeli-settled land near the Palestinian governmental seat in the occupied West Bank to a list of enclaves Israel intends to retain.

That would leave 13 percent of the West Bank in Israeli hands, Israel's Army Radio said, a prospect likely to dismay Palestinians who want the area for a future state.

There was no immediate comment from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. But a Palestinian official, who asked not to be identified, rejected the notion of Israel keeping large clusters of settlements.

"We are saying that once we agree on the withdrawal to 1967 borders, we can accept minor exchanges of land on a case-by-case basis," the official said, referring to lines - described by Israel as indefensible - predating the war in which it captured the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.

According to the report, Netanyahu told U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry that Israel intends to hold on to the Beit El settlement enclave in addition to the Etzion, Maale Adumim and Ariel blocs it has long said it would keep.

Beit El, north of Jerusalem, is next to the city of Ramallah, where Abbas's Palestinian Authority is headquartered.

Army Radio said Netanyahu had also departed from past peace blueprints that had envisaged an equal trade of land inside Israel for any West Bank areas it retained.

Instead, the station reported, Netanyahu has offered to buy some of the settlement land from the Palestinians, but that they had rejected such a deal.

The radio attributed its information to an anonymous source familiar with the details of five-month-old, U.S.-brokered peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

BIBLICAL LINK

Army Radio said Netanyahu spoke to Kerry about a biblical connection to Beit El, and its depiction in the Book of Genesis as the place where Jacob dreamt about a ladder to heaven.

The future of settlements is a core issue in the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Palestinians fear Israeli enclaves will deny them contiguous terrain they see as crucial to a viable country.

Israel, along with the release of dozens of Palestinian prisoners as part of the talks, has stoked Palestinian anger by announcing settlement housing in areas it hopes to retain.

Netanyahu's demands for an Israeli troop presence in the West Bank's Jordan Valley, the likely eastern border of a future Palestinian state, have also rankled the Palestinians.

Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz said on Israel Radio on Thursday that keeping settlers in the valley was also vital to Israel's security interests.

Palestinians seek a state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip with East Jerusalem as its capital. In 2005, Israel pulled its troops and settlers out of the Gaza Strip, now run by Hamas Islamists whom are opposed to the peace talks.

More than 500,000 Israeli settlers live among 2.4 million Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Most countries consider the settlements illegal.

Netanyahu visited Amman on Thursday to discuss the peace process with Jordan's King Abdullah. An Israeli statement said Netanyahu "emphasized that Israel places a premium on security arrangements, including Jordan's interest in any future agreement" with the Palestinians.

Jordan signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1994.

(Writing by Jeffrey Heller, Additional reporting by Crispian Balmer and Ali Sawafta)

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Comments (5)
inMyView wrote:
Wow ! Now we`re that much closer to a deal.

Jan 16, 2014 11:55am EST  --  Report as abuse
bbsnews wrote:
As I have written since before these talks even began, Bibi will kill the deal over the illegal colonies.

John Kerry should just face the facts, Israel will NEVER follow international law and is a rogue state, out of control, and the entire world sees the United States as the enabler, the instigator, and the banker for the illegal occupations.

The US created this monster, and we will have to live with the World War that we have caused by being just as dishonest as the Israelis about it.

Israel is a serial Human Rights abuser, this is reported day in and day out and they do not share a single “value” with this writer.

I abhor the fact that a single dime of US money has ever been sent to this failed country that should be dismantled as the world terror causing entity that it is.

Jan 16, 2014 1:10pm EST  --  Report as abuse
mmarco18 wrote:
It doesn’t really matter what either side “demands”. The pals want to destroy the nation of Israel & the nation of Israel’s leaders know this. No Israeli leader will negotiate away the Jewish nation. The U.S. is replaying their negotiations with Viet Nam. The U.S. won the war but lost the negotiations. It’s not gonna happen to Israel. Kerry is a fool or worse.

Jan 16, 2014 3:10pm EST  --  Report as abuse
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