Israel mooted West Bank barrier 'as Palestinian border'
JERUSALEM - Agence France-PresseIsraeli negotiators have told their Palestinian counterparts the separation barrier that cuts through the West Bank should serve as the border of a future Palestinian state, media reports said Tuesday.
Just hours before US Secretary of State John Kerry's arrival for top-level talks on ongoing direct peace negotiations, two press reports said the Israeli team had made the proposal. "Israel's opening position was that the border be the route of the separation barrier, and not the 1967 lines as the Palestinians have demanded," public radio said in a report, which also featured in the top-selling Yediot Aharonot.
Since the talks began in late July, ending a three-year freeze, the Palestinians have repeatedly complained about Israel's lack of clarity on the issue of borders.
The Palestinians insist the talks be based on the lines that existed before the 1967 Six Day War, when Israeli seized Gaza, the West Bank and Arab east Jerusalem.
But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has rejected any return to the 1967 lines as "indefensible," saying that would not take into account the "demographic changes on the ground" over the past 46 years, in a clear euphemism for Jewish settlements. Israel began work on its sprawling "security fence" in 2002 at the height of the second intifada, and has defended its construction as a crucial protective measure, pointing to a drop in attacks inside Israel as proof of its success.
But the Palestinians, who refer to its as the "apartheid wall," say the barrier is a land grab, pointing out that when complete, 85 percent of it will have been built inside the West Bank.
There was no confirmation of the report from Netanyahu's office, which has refused to comment on the content of the ongoing peace talks in line with a US-requested media blackout. Former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon, who oversaw the start of the barrier's construction, repeatedly insisted that the barrier was not a border for a future Palestinian state but only a measure to keep out suicide bombers.
When construction began, the Jewish state resisted calls to route it along the so-called Green Line, which acted as a de facto border between 1949, when fighting ended after Israel was established, and the 1967 war.
In 2004, the International Court of Justice issued a non-binding opinion declaring the barrier contrary to international law, which was ignored by Israel.
Another issue that arose in the current talks was the possibility of a "shared area" in Jerusalem, which
would be accessible to both sides, the two press reports said, suggesting the idea had sparked a disagreement within the Israeli team over the size of such a zone.
Kerry's arrival in the region comes as a growing number of voices on both sides spoke of an impending crisis in the fledgling talks. Israeli press reports have mooted a new US approach that would see Washington presenting the sides with a proposal for an interim agreement. Kerry has flatly denied the existence of any new plan.
"Let me categorically dispel any notion that there is anything other than the track that is formally engaged in between Israel and the Palestinians," he told reporters in Riyadh on Monday.
"There is no other plan at this point in time." But a Western source quoted by the Maariv daily on Tuesday said Washington had "not yet" drafted a position paper.
"This idea is still in its preliminary stages and work is just now beginning on it," he said. "The American team has been asked to begin doing preparatory work with the possibility of drafting a document."