RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) - Palestinians on Tuesday dismissed any attempt by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to take interim steps toward peace now that U.S.-sponsored statehood negotiations are frozen.
“Netanyahu is trying to escape from his obligations toward the peace process by talking about new proposals,” said Nabil Abu Rdainah, spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
An Israeli official on Monday said Netanyahu was crafting a proposal for a “phased approach” to break the deadlock. Netanyahu has not commented publicly on the issue.
In an interview in the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak was quoted as saying Netanyahu might propose a Palestinian state with temporary borders, an idea Abbas has long rejected.
“If he is serious, let him stop settlements and immediately start negotiations,” Abu Rdainah said.
Direct peace talks that began in Washington in September froze within weeks after Netanyahu refused to extend a partial moratorium on construction in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank.
Netanyahu accused the Palestinians of setting preconditions for negotiations. Palestinians say the settlements, deemed illegal by the World Court, will deny them a viable state.
Abu Rdainah said any talks must focus on establishing a Palestinian state “on the 1967 border,” a reference to the lines that existed between Israel and the West Bank and Gaza Strip before it captured those territories in a war 44 years ago.
“Any other plan is aimed at ... wasting time,” he said.
In a further sign of the wide Israeli-Palestinian divide, Netanyahu reaffirmed in a visit to the Jordan Valley, in the West Bank, that Israel intended in any peace deal to keep its forces along the Jordan River, the likely eastern border of a Palestinian state. “Our security border is here, on the Jordan,” he told reporters.
Noting the turmoil in the Arab world and what he described as the “political and security earthquake” it had caused, he said Israel more than ever had to make sure “solid security foundations” would remain in place.
Palestinian leaders have rejected Netanyahu’s demand that a peace deal include a long-term Israeli military presence on the eastern frontier of the state they hope to establish in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Netanyahu said “terrorists, missiles and rockets” would enter the West Bank and threaten Israel if the Jordan River security line was breached.
Additional reporting by Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem, Writing by Jeffrey Heller, Editing by Janet Lawrence