Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has proposed resuming peace negotiations with the Palestinians but with the initial focus on identifying those Jewish communities that Israel would keep and be allowed to expand, an Israeli official said on Tuesday.
Netanyahu told Federica Mogherini, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, that some of the land Israel captured in 1967 would remain in its hands while other parts would be left under Palestinian control, the Israeli official said. The proposal was made in a meeting in Yerushalayim last Wednesday.
“Therefore negotiations should be resumed in order to define those areas in which we can build,” the official said, quoting Netanyahu. The remarks were first reported in Haaretz.
The news was received by the Palestinians with an immediate demand for a halt to building in Yehudah and Shomron.
PA chief negotiator Saeb Erekat told AFP the premise was “completely unacceptable,” saying, “Netanyahu’s proposal to discuss the borders of settlement blocs is an attempt to legitimize them. The borders that should be set are the borders of the internationally recognized state of Palestine based on 1967 borders,” he added.
Displeasure was registered within the Israeli government coalition, as well. Agriculture minister Uri Ariel (Jewish Home) said on Tuesday that “if indeed there is truth in this, it is a dangerous precedent. The proposal clearly contradicts the first article of the government’s guidelines — the people’s unquestionable right to the Land of Israel and a sovereign state and its national historic homeland,” Ariel said.
Later on Tuesday, the EU responded to the report of Netanyahu’s offer, saying that his peaceful intentions will only be taken seriously if he declares a construction freeze outside the main Jewish blocs.
The report comes amid renewed pressure from the U.S. and EU for a return to peace talks. Western diplomats have said that after an election eve pronouncement that no Palestinian state would be established on his watch Netanyahu faces intense scrutiny of his policy toward the Palestinians.
Internal Security Minister MK Gilad Erdan (Likud) said that such an initiative was bound to come.
“Anyone who is in Likud knows that we will have to partner with the Palestinians to discuss not only our right to land and security needs, but also on a compromise that would include territorial concessions,” Erdan told Army Radio on Tuesday morning.
One Western diplomat familiar with what occurred at the meeting with Mogherini told Reuters that Netanyahu’s proposal showed some change in his position, but not enough to restart peace talks.
“Up until now, Netanyahu has refused to put any maps on the table, so in that respect it was quite substantial. He was talking about borders in one way or another, even if it was based around the acceptance of existing settlement blocs,” the official said.
But another Western diplomat described Netanyahu’s proposal as creating “the illusion of progress.”
“Netanyahu was trying to show that he is committed to peace and ready for negotiations, but he knows the Palestinians would never agree to begin on this basis,” the diplomat contended.