Netanyahu Foresees Another Year of Peace Talks

YERUSHALAYIM (Reuters/Hamodia) -

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said any peace deal with the Palestinians would take at least another year to negotiate, should both sides accept U.S.-proposed principles to keep talks going.

In an Israel Radio interview broadcast on Sunday, Netanyahu reiterated that he regarded guidelines that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is drafting for a future deal as an “American document of American positions.”

Such a definition could give Netanyahu leeway to register reservations that could discourage staunch supporters of the Jewish presence in Yehuda and Shomron from bolting his coalition.

“I think (the Kerry document) … is a possible path toward moving the talks forward. It will take us at least a year to exhaust these negotiations but I can’t say that the Palestinians will accept this document, and I also have not seen it yet,” he said.

Netanyahu gave the interview on Thursday, before flying back to Israel after a U.S. visit that included talks with President Obama.

PA President Mahmoud Abbas is due to see Obama on March 17 to discuss the so-called “framework deal” aimed at salvaging the negotiations, which began in July with a target date of April for a final agreement.

Abbas has rejected a core Netanyahu demand — recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. Palestinians claim such a condition will deny Palestinian refugees and their descendants any right of return.

“The nature of Israel is something that should be defined by Israelis, not Palestinians,” Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said on Israeli Army Radio on Sunday.

Erekat said Palestinians expected Israel to complete on March 28 the release of the final batch of 104 Palestinian prisoners it agreed to free as part of peace efforts.

“And then the negotiations are supposed to continue until April 29,” he said, referring to the end of the nine-month negotiating period originally envisaged by Kerry.

Reiterating another core Palestinian demand, Erekat said Israel must recognize a Palestinian state along the lines that existed before the 1967 Middle East war, in which Israeli forces captured Yehuda and Shomron, east Yerushalayim and the Gaza Strip.

Israel has said a return to those boundaries would leave it with indefensible borders.

But Netanyahu, in an interview broadcast on Friday, said his government would give up “some settlements” in Yehuda and Shomron to help secure a peace agreement.

He said, however, that he would limit as much as he could the number of enclaves removed.

The Palestinians have said they will allow no Israelis to remain as residents in their future state.

Meanwhile, in Cairo on Sunday, Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby urged Arab countries to take a “firm stand” against Israel’s demand for recognition as a Jewish state.

Elaraby delivered his remarks at an Arab Foreign Ministers meeting in Cairo. Last week, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas said publicly he will never recognize Israel as a Jewish state.

Elaraby described the demand as an Israeli attempt to foil the talks, calling for a reevaluation of the negotiation track.