Abd Al-karim Shweiki
The Media Line
August 14, 2008 - 4:30pm

[Ramallah and Jerusalem] Publication on Tuesday by the Israeli daily Haaretz of details of Prime Minister Olmert's peace offer to the Palestinians triggered a rush of assertions and denials playing out in media. Senior Palestinian officials speaking on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to disclose the information "on-record" have confirmed to The Media Line that Israel has asked the Palestinians to agree to an Israeli annexation of 7.3% of the West Bank; while the Palestinians would receive 5.5% from land located between Gaza and Hebron in addition to an another 2% for use as a safe passage between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.  

The officials said the offer came in meetings between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmud 'Abbas and in meetings between the two sides' chief negotiators for final status talks: Ahmad Qurei' and Tzipi Livni. 

The officials said that Israel asked to annex three blocs of communities located in post-1967 territories, including the Jerusalem suburb of Ma'aleh Adumim, Gush Etzion south of Jerusalem, and the city of Ariel in the Samaria region. The Palestinians agreed in principle only to the annexation of Gush Etzion and rejected the other two blocs outright.  

“Agreeing to annex Ariel and Ma'aleh Adumim would mean separating the West Bank into four parts and this is totally unacceptable by us. We informed both the Israelis and the Americans about our position," one senior official familiar with the negotiations told The Media Line. 

According to that official, Israel was clear in its demand for annexing 7.3% of the West Bank while as the Palestinians agreed to only 1.8% in the form of a land-swap.  

The official also revealed that according to the Palestinian proposal, the Palestinians agreed to Israeli retention of Givat Ze'ev and Neve Yaakov in the Jerusalem area, but not Har Homa.

The official said, “We still don’t know exactly the areas that Israel wants to annex. It is true that we had seen maps, but [they were] not complete. Maybe Israel wants to annex east Jerusalem, which is 2% of the West Bank" 

The official also revealed that Israel wants the safe passage between the West Bank and Gaza Strip to remain under the Israeli sovereignty. “If it will be under the Israeli sovereignty, then why to include it under the swap deal?” the official asked. 

According to the official, American Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is trying to bridge the gaps between the two positions and these efforts will top the agenda when she returns to the region on August 20th. 

According to the Palestinian source, the Israelis appear content to cede the Jordan Valley – once considered non-negotiable – in exchange for adequate "security needs" that include early warning systems and patrols of the borders by the Israeli army.  Not surprisingly, the Palestinians were agreeable to the former, but oppose any physical Israeli presence. They did, however, counter with the suggestion of an international force modeled on the UNIFIL presence on the Israel-Lebanon border. 

Another major point of departure is the demand by Israel that the Palestinian state be demilitarized. Israel insists that the existing Palestinian security apparatus along with its current weaponry is sufficient for the proposed state – a position the Palestinians reject. 

While the issue of a Palestinian right of return for those who left their homes when Israel became a state in 1948 remains contentious, it appears that Israeli negotiators have gone beyond an absolute rejection of the idea. According to the officials who briefed The Media Line, Israel has offered to allow the return of a limited number of Palestinians based on a formula of family unification. Models for compensating refugees have apparently been discussed, with Israel demanding compensation for Jewish refugees who fled Arab countries. 

'Abbas spokesman and adviser Nabil Abu Rudeina said, "there is still a wide gap between the two positions on the issue of land and I can confirm that none of the final status issues is closed so far." 

Abu Rudeina did not refer directly to specific details in Prime Minister Olmert's proposals, but said, "The Palestinian side will only accept a Palestinian state with territorial continuity, with holy Jerusalem as its capital, without settlements, and on the June 4, 1967 boundaries.” 

Palestinian negotiator Dr. Sa'ib 'Ariqat insists that the Palestinians have not received any such detailed proposal from the Israelis. “At no time was any ‘detailed’ or package proposal ever presented to the Palestinians, either by Prime Minister Olmert or any other Israeli official.” 'Ariqat said. 

Erekat emphasized the need to achieve a comprehensive solution that includes the creation of a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital and a "just and agreed upon solution to the refugees."   He stressed that serious negotiations are taking place but said there still remains ‘‘wide gaps’’ between the two parties. 

But nevertheless, senior Palestinian officials confirmed to The Media Line that 'Abbas did, indeed, hear these ideas from Israeli Prime Minister Olmert and Qurei' similarly heard the same proposals from Israeli Foreign Minister Livni.   

'Abbas and Olmert have met a number of times since President Bush's Annapolis conference in November 2007; and Qurei' and Livni have held dozens of sessions.  

The Palestinian officials stressed that while the meetings have included discussions of final status issues such as borders, refugees, settlements, water and bilateral relations, the matter of Jerusalem has not been discussed, primarily because of Olmert's delicate political position vis-à-vis the Shas party. Ruled by rabbinic dictate, Shas has threatened to leave the government coalition if Jerusalem is discussed. 

Yet, 'Ariqat insists that, “It was agreed with the Israelis in the presence of the Americans that there will be no agreement until everything is agreed upon. This means reaching an agreement on all the final status issues including Jerusalem which will be the capital of the Palestinian state.” 

The Palestinian officials maintain that if Olmert wants an agreement in-hand before he leaves office, he will have to open negotiations to include the issue of Jerusalem. 

Palestinian negotiator Qurei' is reportedly demanding that the U.S. certify in writing exactly where negotiations now stand as a safeguard against talks returning to square one as the result of an Israeli – or Palestinian – governmental collapse.


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