Israel has rejected a Palestinian proposal to place NATO forces in the Jordan Valley instead of the IDF, as part of a final-status agreement.
The suggestion of using forces from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was made public earlier this week in a New York Times interview with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has rejected that proposal, according to an interview with US Secretary of State John Kerry conducted by David Ignatius and published Saturday in The Washington Post.
“Netanyahu has made it clear he doesn’t want NATO,” Kerry said, but a possible third-party force “is something for the parties to work out,” Ignatius wrote.
An Israeli official confirmed for The Jerusalem Post that the article was accurate.
On Friday, former prime minister Ehud Olmert told Channel 2 that he, together with former defense minister Ehud Barak had already told the Americans during the 2008 Annapolis peace process that they were willing to withdraw the IDF from the Jordan Valley within the context of a final-status agreement. But he did not offer any details of that plan.
Olmert also said he believed – based on his conversations with Abbas – that when all the details will be worked out for a final-status agreement, the issue of recognizing Israel as a Jewish state could be resolved.
As part of a US-led ninemonth negotiating process that ends in April, Kerry is expected to unveil a “framework” document laying out the principles for a final-status agreement. It is expected to include issues such as the Jordan Valley and Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state.
To author that document, Kerry has spoken with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, both on the phone and in person.
There is also some speculation that Netanyahu will meet with US President Barack Obama in Washington at the beginning of March when the prime minister travels there to address the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
In Saturday’s Washington Post article, Kerry said the process of arriving at a two-state solution will take time but that a clear end goal is necessary.
“Everybody understands that it’s going to take some period of time for a transition,” he was quoted as saying. “That’s why it is phased... What is critical, I think, is to give people a sense that there can be an end of the conflict and an end of claims, that there is a framework within which it is all contained.”
On Friday, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman (Likud Beytenu) endorsed Kerry’s work and a two-state solution, but said Israel would only accept a proposal that guaranteed its security.
The nine-month process began with negotiations between Israeli and Palestinian delegations, Liberman said, but at this point, direct talks have broken down, and each side is speaking solely with the US.
Kerry’s framework, he added, would lay out the principles for direct talks in the future.
“We are not negotiating with the Palestinians. We are negotiating with the Americans and the Palestinians are negotiating with Americans,” the foreign minister said. “He is establishing principles that will allow for direct talks. You can not come to an agreement without direct negotiations with the other side. All we are discussing now is the principles to arrive at the opportunity to sit at the table to hold direct talks without an interlocutor.”
He explained that he supported a two-state solution, but only on certain terms.
“We support making an agreement with the Palestinians, but we do not have to accept it at any price,” he said.
“We don’t have to be suckers. It’s bad enough that we were suckers in the past.”
Israel doesn’t plan to revisit the 2005 Gaza withdrawal in which it gave away land but received only missiles in return, Liberman said. That is why the security arrangements are so critical to any future agreement with the Palestinians, he said.
“When we speak of security it is to prevent the same kind of crazy reality that exists now,” he said.
He startled his audience at a hotel in Tel Aviv when he said he would cede territory in favor of national unity. He also advocated for a population swap as part of a final-status agreement with the Palestinians.
“When there is a dispute between the unity of the nation or the unity of the land, the nation’s unity is more important,” said Liberman as he spoke at the 75th anniversary event of Israel’s Industrial and Commercial Association.
Liberman has long espoused a two-state solution that calls for new Israeli borders based on a new map that would place Israeli-Arab population centers in a Palestinian state and allow for Israel to retain Jewish settlements.
Peace plans in the past have also referenced this possibility, which is supported by international law, he said.
“This kind of population and territory swap should be part of a final-status agreement,” he said. “It’s not a utopian idea,” he said, its is both legal and historical.
On the looming threat of economic boycotts against Israel, Liberman said the issue pre-dated the state and went back to at least 1921 when people in Jaffa were urged not to buy from Jewish shops. In 1945, the Arab League voted for a boycott against Jews and sanctions by countries and companies continued into the early 1990s, he said. Israel has persevered and will continue to do so, he said.
In 2013 exports to Europe grew by 8% and in 2014 it was able to participate in the Horizon 2020 program. It has joined and will continue to join important international organizations, he said. The Foreign Ministry is working combating the phenomenon, he said, but keeping it in the headlines only adds fuel to the fire.
“We should not ignore the threat, but we should not get hysterical about it either,” he said. The boycott is led by weak groups, with little behind them, whose strongest playing card is our reaction, Liberman said.
Turning to politics, Liberman said it is “irresponsible” to talk about bringing down this government, which was elected only last year.
“This kind of talk is not serious and not responsible,” he said. “This option does not exist. We won’t lend a hand to any coalition changes.”
Criticizing his coalition partner Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett, he said: “I see him running to the microphones and not the opposition.” Liberman said Bennett would not leave the coalition unless the state begins to evacuate settlers and bulldozers are destroying their homes.
Of the Meretz party, he said, it needed to decide if it was a political Zionist organization or if its role was solely to support Israeli Arabs.
The Yisrael Beytenu leader said the economy, not territory, would be the basis for Israeli peace with both the Palestinians and the Arab world. The moderate Arab world has never been as open to Israel as it is today, Liberman said.
Liberman’s No. 2 in Yisrael Beytenu, Agriculture Minister Yair Shamir, appeared to criticize his boss’s leftward shift Saturday in an interview with Channel 10. Shamir said he was against a Palestinian state and does not believe in two states for two peoples. When asked whether he would quit the government over the issue, he said if he did not, he would be “lying to himself.”
The Knesset’s Land of Israel Front, led by MKs Yariv Levin (Likud) and Orit Struck (Bayit Yehudi), reacted to Liberman by saying that 20 years of terror since the signing of the Oslo Accords proved that “whoever abandons the land abandons the people,” and that the key to national unity was maintaining all of the land.
Bennett chose not to respond to Liberman’s attack. But Meretz leader Zehava Gal-On defended her party.
“Liberman is the last person who can preach to Meretz about Zionist and democratic values,” she said. “His political CV is full of investigations for corruption and connections with shady people. His public service has been limited to fascist and anti-democratic initiatives, most of which did not pass.”
Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.