Karin Laub
The Statesman
October 13, 2010 - 12:00am

JERICHO, WEST BANK — Israel's insistence on maintaining a presence on the eastern border of a future Palestinian state could be reviewed over time, a government spokesman said Wednesday.

Israel's demand for such a presence is one of the potential obstacles to a Mideast peace deal.

The Palestinians say they will not accept any Israeli deployment in their future state, arguing that the presence of international forces during a transition period — an idea they support — should be sufficient to address Israeli security concerns.

Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, restarted by the Obama administration in September, are currently on hold because of disagreement over Israeli settlement building.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wants a Palestinian state to be demilitarized, but fears weapons and militants can be smuggled in through the West Bank's eastern border with Jordan. He has said he wants a continued Israeli presence on the eastern border of a future Palestinian state, as part of any peace deal.

Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev would not say what kind of presence Israel seeks on the border of a future Palestine, but suggested Israel could be flexible if conditions permit.

"That presence can be reviewed over time, and in accordance with performance," he said. "But initially it will be required in any peace agreement."

In Israeli-Palestinian talks a decade ago, negotiators had reached tentative agreement on the establishment of Israeli-manned early warning stations in the Jordan Valley on the West Bank's eastern edge, said former Israeli negotiator Shaul Arieli. However, those talks broke down without agreement.

An Israeli official says Netanyahu wants Israeli troops to remain in the Jordan Valley, as part of a peace deal.

In recent weeks, Netanyahu raised the issue of an Israeli troop presence with U.S. officials, who were trying to persuade him to extend a 10-month-old curb on West Bank settlement construction, the Israeli official said. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.

Regev said Israel insists on security arrangements to prevent a repeat of history. In the aftermath of unilateral Israeli withdrawals from south Lebanon in 2000 and the Gaza Strip in 2005, militants taking control of those territories fired thousands of rockets at Israel.

Netanyahu told Israel's parliament on Monday that "any peace agreement between the Palestinians and us must be based on strong security arrangements in the field."

The Jordan Valley would be an essential part of a future Palestinian state. The fertile valley makes up a quarter of the West Bank and would be one of the few largely undeveloped territories of the crowded future state, a place to build new cities and settle refugees.


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