RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) - The Palestinians are seeking a map from the United States showing where Israel sees its final borders and making clear whether they include Palestinian land and homes, an official said on Wednesday.
Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) official Yasser Abed Rabbo was responding to a U.S. call for the Palestinians to present their own ideas in response to an Israeli proposal they recognize Israel as a Jewish state in return for curbs on settlement building — a declaration they have long opposed.
“What is required from the American administration and Israel is that they present us with the map of the state of Israel that they want us to recognize,” Abed Rabbo told Reuters.
“Is this map on the ‘67 borders or does it include Palestinian land and the homes we live in?” he said, referring to the year when Israel captured the West Bank and Gaza Strip in a Middle East war.
The settlement issue has derailed U.S.-backed peace talks which began on September 2. Visiting Kosovo, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sounded an optimistic note.
“I am personally convinced that both leaders, (Israeli) Prime Minister (Benjamin) Netanyahu and (Palestinian) President (Mahmoud) Abbas, very much see it as in their respective interest to return to and proceed with direct negotiations,” she said.
The Palestinians say they will not resume the U.S.-backed talks until Israel halts settlement building on occupied land where they aim to found a state. An Israeli freeze on new home building in the occupied West Bank expired on September 26.
Netanyahu said on Monday he would be willing to request another freeze from his cabinet if the Palestinians recognised Israel as a Jewish state.
He said it would be a “trust-building step,” while some Palestinian and Israeli commentators questioned whether the proposal was only a ploy to try to shift blame onto the Palestinians should the peace process collapse.
The Palestinians ruled out the idea — something they see as a major concession that would be tantamount to political suicide for a leadership whose credibility has already been badly damaged by the failure of past peace talks.
Clinton told reporters that “both sides are testing out a lot of different approaches, offers, requests between each other.”
On Tuesday, U.S. State Department spokesman P. J. Crowley said Netanyahu had “offered his thoughts on both what he’s willing to contribute to the process, and what he thinks he needs for his people out of the process.”
Washington, Crowley said, hoped the Palestinians would do the same.
“We recognize that Israel is, as it says itself, is a Jewish state,” he added.
Abed Rabbo’s demand for a map echoed Abbas’s call for clear terms of reference for the peace talks.
Netanyahu’s predecessor as prime minister, Ehud Olmert, has said he showed Abbas a map offering him 93.5 to 93.7 percent of the West Bank, with the difference made up by a proposed land swap of 5.8 percent and a safe-passage corridor between the territory and the Gaza Strip.
But the Palestinians fear Netanyahu has no intention of allowing the establishment of a viable state they seek in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem, which Israel also captured in 1967 and annexed, as their capital.
“We are ready to recognize, once again, the state of Israel if Washington gives us a map of the borders of that state so we know if they include our land and homes in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and Jerusalem,” Abed Rabbo said.
The PLO recognised the state of Israel in 1993 at the outset of the peace process. At the same time, Israel also recognised the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people.
Additional reporting by Ali Sawafta; Editing by Charles Dick