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Abbas pressures Israel with Nato security proposal

The Palestinian Authority president has proposed that a US-led Nato force stay indefinitely in a future Palestinian state to guarantee security for both Palestinians and Israelis.

The Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas heads a cabinet meeting in the West Bank city of Ramallah on July 28, 2013. Issam Rimawi/Reuters
The Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas heads a cabinet meeting in the West Bank city of Ramallah on July 28, 2013. Issam Rimawi/Reuters

The Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, has proposed that a Nato force led by the United States stay in a future Palestinian state indefinitely to guarantee security. 

Mr Abbas said Israeli troops, along with Jewish settlers, could withdraw from the occupied West Bank over a period of five years if Nato troops were deployed to ensure security for Israel and the Palestinians. 

“At the end of five years my country will be clean of occupation,” Mr Abbas said in an interview with the New York Times on Sunday.

He had previously insisted on a three-year period for the withdrawal of Israeli forces, while Israel wants to maintain a troop presence in a Palestinian state.

Mr Abbas’s latest proposal to US secretary of state John Kerry puts Israel in a position where it must either reach an agreement with the Palestinians or be blamed for the failure of US-backed peace talks.

“For a long time, and wherever they want, not only on the eastern borders, but also on the western borders, everywhere”, he said of a Nato presence. 

“The third party can stay. They can stay to reassure the Israelis, and to protect us.”

Mr Kerry initiated the current round of talks in July last year with the aim of concluding a framework deal by the end of April to end the conflict and establish a Palestinian state. But the negotiations have stalled, with neither side willing to compromise on key issues such as security, Jewish settlements, the status of Palestinian refugees and recognition of Israel as a Jewish state.

Mr Abbas’s proposal for a Nato force deals direcely with security concerns raised by Israel, which has demanded that its troops maintain a long-term presence in the Jordan Valley.

The Israeli government insists it trusts only its own military and has rejected previous suggestions of a third-party force.

However, a Nato force providing security for both Israel and the Palestinians, who face attacks by Jewish settlers, could be the “sweetener” needed for the talks to continue, said Daoud Kuttab, an Amman-based Palestinian analyst.

“The Israelis and the US are military allies,” Mr Kuttab said. “Mahmoud Abbas is making it more difficult for the Israeli government to say no to a peace proposal.”

The Palestinians have refused to allow Israel to keep troops in the Palestinian territories, saying it would amount to the continuation of Israeli occupation.

Palestinians have in the past been open to having an international force patrol the borders.

In the interview, Mr Abbas said that as part of a final-status agreement the Palestinians would have no army, only a police force. The Nato force would be responsible for antiterrorism and cross-border security.

The Palestinians might not get everything they want but the deal might be enough for talks to continue, Mr Kuttab said.

“This is the first time that I started thinking this is serious effort,” he said. “It looks like [the peace talks are] more serious than any of us thought initially.”

Mkhaimar Abusada, a political analysts at Al Azhar University in the Gaza Strip, said Israel would be on a “collision course” with the US if they rejected the Palestinian proposal.

Mr Abbas “is trying to show the international community that Israel is not interested in peace”, he said. “They don’t make more than lip service to the idea of a Palestinian state.”

If Israel agrees to a proposal, the majority of Palestinians would accept Nato forces, Mr Abusada said.

“If we have to choose between an Israeli military presence and Nato military presence, we would much prefer a Nato presence.”

Reacting to the New York Times interview, the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday attacked Mr Abbas for insisting that the Palestinians would not recognise Israel as a Jewish state.

Mr Abbas knows “there will not be an agreement without recognition of the nation state of the Jews”, Mr Netanyahu said, according to the Israeli media.

jvela@thenational.ae