x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Israelis and Palestinians draw ‘red lines’ before Kerry plan

Politicians stake out boundaries they claim their leaders would never cross once presented with US secretary of state's widely anticipated proposal for the outlines of a peace deal.

RAMALLAH // Israeli and Palestinian politicians on Tuesday staked out “red lines” they claimed their leaders would never cross once presented with the US secretary of state John Kerry’s widely anticipated proposal for the outlines of a peace deal.

Mr Kerry is to arrive in the region on Thursday to present a framework for peace to the Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas and the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

His visit comes two days after Israel released a third batch of long-term Palestinian prisoners as part of a deal Mr Kerry brokered to bring both sides back to the negotiating in July.

However, an anticipated announcement by Mr Netanyahu’s government of further settlement construction – designed to appease hardliners – looked set again to undermine the talks.

Both previous prisoner releases were accompanied by announcements of new Israeli settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.

On Tuesday, the focus was on the West Bank’s Jordan Valley, a strategic area along the border with Jordan that Israeli hardliners, including members of Mr Netanyahu’s Likud Party, say must be annexed by Israel.

The Palestinian cabinet moved its weekly meeting to the valley to stake its claim to the area, while the pro-settler caucus in Israel’s parliament said it would dedicate a new neighbourhood in an Israeli settlement in the valley.

The valley runs on the eastern edge of the West Bank and would form the future border between Palestine and Jordan. Palestinians say they cannot establish a viable state without the valley, which makes up one-fifth of the West Bank. Israel has insisted that it maintain a presence in the area because of its strategic value.

There has been a flurry of political declarations as Mr Kerry prepares to present his ideas for the parameters of a peace deal. He has kept his proposals under wraps, but the traditional US positions on solving the conflict are known and Mr Kerry has dropped hints, including in a policy speech earlier this month.

There has been growing expectation that Mr Netanyahu will be asked to recognise Israel’s pre-1967 war frontier as a baseline for drawing the borders of a Palestinian state, while allowing for some modifications and land swaps.

Mr Netanyahu has opposed this principle, apparently because it would imply Israeli readiness to give up most of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem.

Palestinian officials, meanwhile, fear that Mr Kerry will ask Mr Abbas to recognise Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people. Mr Abbas has rejected this in the past, with his aides saying such recognition would mean abrogating the rights of Palestinian refugees who dream of returning to lost properties in what is now Israel.

Officials on both sides warned that their leaders will face opposition if they concede to Mr Kerry.

Most of the Likud will reject the recognition of the pre-1967 frontier as the starting point for border talks, said Danny Danon, Israel’s deputy defence minister.

“We will not adopt the ideology of the left, even if it comes from Kerry,” he said.

Wasel Abu Yousef of the PLO executive committee said Mr Abbas cannot recognise Israel as a Jewish state at the start of the negotiating process because of the implications for the refugees. “Whatever happens, this issue is a red line we can’t accept,” he said.

Mr Abbas has hinted in the past that he is not insisting that millions of refugees be resettled in Israel, but that concessions can only be made toward the end of negotiations.

* Associated Press