Eitan urges ‘partial territorial agreement’ to boost talks

Likud minister proposes that Israel transfer security responsibilities to PA in most of West Bank, and resume building in major settlement blocs.

In a proposal aimed at giving positive momentum to Israeli- Palestinian direct talks following the imminent end of the 10-month settlement freeze, Likud Minister Michael Eitan is urging the two sides to try to reach a “partial territorial agreement” in the next few months, under which Israel would transfer authority and security responsibilities to the Palestinian Authority in the overwhelming proportion of the West Bank, while Israel would resume building in the major settlement blocs.
Eitan, a former Greater Israel ideologue and settlement founder, recently wrote to Likud members urging a halt to any further building in areas that the government intends transferring to Palestinian control.
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In that letter, he also called on the government to introduce a program to assist the voluntary relocation of settlers from those areas to major settlement blocs or to Israel, with their evacuated homes to be taken over by IDF soldiers.
The 66-year-old cabinet minister unveiled his latest proposal in an interview with The Jerusalem Post earlier this week.
“There is one model that has worked,” he said, in terms of positive change on the ground. “This government has taken down roadblocks in Judea and Samaria and transferred authority to the PA security forces, and security has been strengthened. That same model can take us a major step forward now.”
He added: “We should aim to reach a partial territorial agreement in the next few months – even without a full framework agreement on borders. Under this partial agreement, the PA would be given agreed authority and security responsibilities in the overwhelming majority of the territory – let’s say, 85 percent.” There would be no new settlement building in those areas.
“There would then be a partial withdrawal by the IDF. In return for the PA establishing its presence, Israel would continue to build in the settlement blocs.”
If the security arrangements proved successful, he said, “all well and good. If not, it should be agreed, with international support, that the IDF would have to go back.”
Eitan also advocated, en route to the full framework accord, that Israel offer territorial swaps for “up to 5% of Judea and Samaria, for the annexation of the settlement blocks.”
Eitan, whose ministerial responsibility is for the improvement of government services, said he had formulated the proposal after it became clear that the direct talks have already featured discussions on settlements, borders and security arrangements. “There have been hints that some of the talk is of trying to find an agreement quickly on borders, so that both sides will then know where each can build.”
Obviously, he said, “there are gaps between what [Prime Minister Binyamin] Netanyahu would like to offer [in terms of territorial compromise] and what was offered by previous prime ministers Olmert and Barak. And Netanyahu has said he is not bound by those previous offers. But at the same time, Netanyahu inherited a certain reality, and those previous proposals have had some effect.
“What I’m suggesting, with all due caution, is that the gaps on this issue are less dramatic than the gulfs between the two sides on issues like the refugees and Jerusalem. The differences may be wide, but they are less wide.”
His proposal, he said, would give both sides the sense of moving forward on the ground. “We wouldn’t have relinquished anything. And we would have expanded our security cooperation [with the PA]. The PA would have to take its security responsibilities seriously. And we’d still build in the blocs.”