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Palestinians reject US security ideas for peace accord
By REUTERS, HERB KEINON
05/12/2013
Abbas rejects ideas posed by US retired general John Allen, enlisted by Obama to analyze the security aspects of any future agreement; ideas "would only lead to prolonging, maintaining the occupation," PA official says.
 
Palestinians rejected ideas raised by visiting US Secretary of State John Kerry on Thursday for security arrangements under a possible future peace accord with Israel, a Palestinian official said.

There was no immediate response from the United States or Israel, which has long insisted on keeping swathes of its West Bank settlements, as well as a military presence on the territory's eastern boundary with Jordan, under any peace deal.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity and declined to elaborate on the proposals, said Kerry presented them to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas after discussing them separately with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

"The Palestinian side rejected them because they would only lead to prolonging and maintaining the occupation," the official said, referring to Israel's hold on the West Bank, where, along with Gaza and east Jerusalem, Palestinians seek an independent state.

Other PA officials have refused to comment on the issue.

Israeli media have reported that Kerry's proposals included security arrangements for the Jordan Valley, between the West Bank and Jordan. An Israeli official said that in recent weeks US officials had visited Jordan Valley crossing points.

In remarks to reporters after his three-hour meeting with Abbas in the West Bank hub city of Ramallah, Kerry commended "his steadfast commitment to stay at the peace negotiations, despite the difficulties that he and the Palestinians have perceived in the process".

Kerry said they had discussed "at great length issues of security in the region, security for the state of Israel, security for a future Palestine".

"I think the interests are very similar, but there are questions of sovereignty, questions of respect and dignity which are obviously significant to the Palestinians, and for the Israelis very serious questions of security and also of longer-term issues of how we end this conflict once and for all," he added.

Abbas did not join Kerry at the Ramallah media appearance, but a brief statement released by his office said he and Kerry discussed the latest developments surrounding the peace process.

The statement quoted Abbas as saying that the goal of the peace talks is to "achieve peace based on the principle of a two-state solution and the establishment of a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders with Jerusalem as its capital."

Abbas was also quoted as warning that continued settlement in the West bank and east Jerusalem neighborhoods would "undermine efforts made by the US Administration to reach positive results at the current negotiations."

Disputes over proposed Israeli land handovers have bedevilled peace efforts for two decades, along with other issues like the status of Jerusalem and fate of Palestinian refugees. Kerry revived the talks in July and set a nine-month target for an accord, but both sides have signalled pessimism.

Palestinians worry that Israel's settlements will not leave room for a viable state. Israelis question whether Abbas could commit the rival, armed Palestinian Hamas Islamists who govern Gaza to coexistence with the Jewish state.

Kerry, who met Netanyahu earlier on Thursday and returned to Jerusalem in the evening to confer again with the Israeli leader, said "some progress" had been made in the peace talks.

He stressed that the US views "Israel's security [as] fundamental to these negotiations."

Acknowledging Israel's fear that ceding the West Bank could make it vulnerable to attack, Kerry said he offered Netanyahu "some thoughts about that particular security challenge".

Neither he nor Netanyahu gave further details, citing the need to keep the diplomacy discreet. Both described Israeli security as paramount, something Netanyahu said would require that his country "be able to defend itself by itself".

One of the main obstacles in the talks up until now is believed to be the issue of whether Israel will retain a security presence along the Jordan River after any agreement.

Kerry said that retired US general John Allen, who he described as one of the best military minds in the US, has been charged by US President Barack Obama with analyzing the security aspects of any future agreement and "ensuring the security arrangement that we might contemplate in the context of this process will provide for greater security for Israel."

Allen, Kerry said, provided Netanyahu with "some thoughts about the practical security challenge." He said that conversation will continue during a dinner meeting, and possibly at another meeting on Friday.

Speaking to the press after the joint meeting, Netanyahu said that "Israel is ready for a historic peace" based on two states for two peoples.

He called on the Palestinian leadership to stop finger pointing and creating artificial crisis, and stressed – an oblique reference to the ever-returning issue of settlement construction - that Israel is honoring "all understanding" reached in the negotiations that led to the current talks.

Kerry was due to depart on Friday after a helicopter tour of the West Bank and other areas with Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon. In Ramallah, Kerry said he may return to the region for more talks next week "depending on where we are".

"So the discussions will go on, the effort will continue, and our hopes with them for the possibilities of peace for the region," he said.

Khaled Abu Tomeh contributed to this report.
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