Israel will only sign an agreement with the Palestinians if it includes an Israeli security presence in the Jordan Valley, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said Monday.

At the same time, Netanyahu has never ruled out that such a presence could be part of a larger international force.

As reported in The Jerusalem Post Sunday, Yitzhak Molcho, Israel’s negotiator in the low level talks in Amman, told his Palestinian counterpart Saeb Erekat that Israel would not take any steps that endangered its security. What that meant, he said, was that if the Palestinians continued to say that there could not be any IDF presence in the Jordan Valley in a peace deal, that would impact on Israel’s ability to show flexibility on the territorial issue.

Netanyahu, during a Likud faction meeting in the Knesset, responded to a report Monday in Ma’ariv saying Israel had given up on its claim to sovereignty over the Jordan Valley, and would be satisfied with tight security arrangements along the Jordan River.

“I heard the reports,” Netanyahu said. “I would like to say what I will do. This depends on me. I will sign a permanent agreement only if it includes Israel’s remaining in the Jordan Valley. Nobody can ensure this but us. I think that we are acting responsibly and prudently and are seeing to the security of the State of Israel. This requires Israel to remain in the Jordan Valley.”

Government officials said afterward Netanyahu was referring to a security presence, not a civilian one. Netanyahu has said consistently since coming into power that any agreement would necessitate an Israeli military presence along the Jordan River, and he has emphasized that point repeatedly since the revolutions in the Arab world began last year, saying the regional uncertainty makes such a security presence even more necessary.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has said repeatedly he would not let any Israeli soldier remain in a future Palestinian state, although he has indicated a willingness to allow some kind of international force along the Jordan River.

One Western source said that one possible way to bridge the gap between these two positions would be for Israeli soldiers to be part of such an international force.

In a related development, diplomatic officials said an Arab League meeting scheduled for February 4, during which Abbas was to decide whether to continue with the Amman talks, has been pushed back until the middle of the month, apparently to give the sides time to work out a package for continuing the talks.

The Palestinians have threatened to break off the talks if Israel does not freeze all settlement construction, and agree to the June 4, 1967, lines as the basis for negotiations.

According to an Army Radio report, the Palestinian representative to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Mediterranean meeting in Amman Monday said the Palestinians intended to continue with the low-level talks until March.

The EU responded to Israel’s appeals for a condemnation of comments made by Mohammed Hussein, the PA’s mufti in Jerusalem earlier this month, quoting an Islamic text calling for the murder of Jews, issuing a statement decrying his “inflammatory speech.”

“The EU missions in Jerusalem and Ramallah recall that all parties are obliged under the Road Map to immediately cease incitement. Jerusalem is a city sacred to three religions and all religious leaders should be working for dignity and justice for people of all faiths,” the statement said.

One Israeli official, while he welcomed the condemnation, said it would have been stronger had the EU urged the PA to condemn the mufti’s words as well.

A few hours after issuing this statement, the EU issued another statement, this time “expressing concern” over Israel’s arrest of Hamas affiliated Palestinian Legislative Council members.

“These actions are not conducive to the confidence building efforts, in which the EU is fully engaged, aiming at the resumption of direct peace negotiations,” the statement read.

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