Israeli officials were willing to hand portions of Area C of the West Bank over to the Palestinian Authority and freeze settlement building, Martin Indyk said on Thursday in Tel Aviv, speaking about the 2013-2014 negotiations.
“In the last night of the negotiations that I was involved in, the Israeli negotiators came with an offer of tens of thousand of dunams [thousands of hectares] of C Area, that they were prepared to give over to the Palestinian Authority’s control to build what they would want to on them without the permit regime and so on,” the US special envoy to the nine months of Israeli-Palestinian talks that ended in failure in April 2014, said.
“And that came in the context of a settlement freeze,” Indyk told the audience at the Israel Conference on Peace, sponsored by Haaretz
“Why can’t that be done now?” he asked.
He later confirmed the quote for The Jerusalem Post
, but would not expand upon it.
When Indyk quit his post in July 2014 to return to the Brookings Institution in Washington, he cited lack of trust between Israelis and Palestinians as one of the critical reasons the talks, brokered by US Secretary of State John Kerry, had failed.
In Tel Aviv on Thursday, Indyk said he still felt that “Israelis and Palestinians lacked the trust necessary between them for progress to occur,” but that it still was important to push forward to resolve the conflict.
“The alternative to not trying is what we face today; a kind of hopelessness that leads nowhere,” he said.
PA President Mahmoud Abbas could be a partner for peace tomorrow if Israel froze settlement building, Indyk said.
“I can tell you from personal experience they [settlements] are the problem,” Indyk said.
He warned that without a freeze on Jewish building in Area C of the West Bank, which is under Israeli military and civil control, the option for a two-state solution could disappear.
Areas A and B, which amount to 40 percent of the West Bank, are under the PA’s civil control.
But the PA wants control over Area C, where all the Israeli settlements are located, and east Jerusalem, which it views as the capital of its future state. Without those areas, it fears that it would not have enough territory for a viable state.
Indyk and many in the international community agree with that assessment.
“The creeping [Israeli] annexation, which is continuing apace every day, will make it impossible for any part of that 60% [Area C of the West Bank] to go back to the Palestinians and, therefore, there will not be a two-state solution, if something is not done,” Indyk said.
“You can press your government to do that,” he urged the packed auditorium of hundreds of listeners.
Indyk made his plea at a time when Israel is under pressure from the United States and the international community to take steps to preserve the option of a two-state solution, particularly given the absence of a new peace initiative.
US officials said November 5 they did not believe a final status agreement for the creation of two states could be achieved during the 14 months left in the Obama administration. They added that even the renewal of talks was unlikely.
Current and former diplomats at the conference in Tel Aviv said they believed talks could be renewed if Israel took steps to improve economic life for the Palestinians, allowed the PA to develop portions of Area C and froze settlement building.
Tony Blair, the former envoy for the Middle East Quartet, was less focused on the issue of settlements and preferred to think instead of ways Israel could empower the PA, particularly economically in exchange for Abbas’s return to the negotiating table.
Such steps could include telecommunications, movement and access and Palestinian development of Area C.
“There are a series of things that could make a difference to people’s lives on the ground and improve the Palestinian economy and also have significance politically,” he said.
But any effort to revive peace talks must also include the reunification of Fatah and Hamas and the support of Arab countries in the region, Blair added.
When he was in Washington last week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he had not given up hope for a two-state solution, and spent three hours with Kerry discussing ways to advance the diplomatic process with the Palestinians.
Netanyahu has persistently called on the Palestinians to return to the negotiating table, but the Palestinians have refused to do so unless Israel halts all settlement construction in the West Bank and Jewish building in east Jerusalem.
The prime minister has rejected that request and insisted that the heart of the problem is the Palestinian refusal to recognize that Israel is the homeland of the Jewish people. He has similarly ignored a call by the Zionist Union party to freeze building in isolated settlements so as to ensure that construction can continue in the blocs that Israel hopes to retain in any final state agreement with the Palestinians.
Upon taking office in 2009, Netanyahu instituted a 10-month moratorium on new settler construction in the West Bank, which did not lead to renewed negotiations. At the conference in Tel Aviv, United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov said continued settlement building was the stumbling block both to the peace process and the two-state solution. He also called on Israel to recognize Palestine as a state.
“If you accept the right of the State of Israel to exist, how can you deny the right of the state of Palestine to exist,” Mladenov said.
“There is a wrong and a right two-state solution,” he said. “The right two-state solution is the state of Israel and Palestine. The wrong two-state solution, is the state of Israel and the settler state in the West Bank,” Mladenov said.
Netanyahu’s words in support of a two-state solution must be backed up by significant policy changes that give the Palestinians hope, Mladenov added.
An international architecture must also be set up so other countries in the region can support the resolution of the conflict, he added.
The frozen little dove of peace must be thawed, he said.
Let’s “make sure that when it’s unfrozen, it’s not dead,” Mladenov said.