Israel vows to retain West Bank control in any peace deal

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel will retain security control over the Palestinians as part of any future peace deal. (Reuters)
Updated 01 February 2018
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Israel vows to retain West Bank control in any peace deal

JERUSALEM: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday said Israel will retain security control over the Palestinians as part of any future peace deal, deepening Palestinian fears that Israel and the Trump administration are colluding on a proposal that will fall far short of their dreams of independence.
Netanyahu’s statement exposed a deepening rift that has emerged between the US and Israel on one hand, and the Palestinians and the Europeans on the other, ahead of an expected peace push by the Trump administration. Those disagreements could complicate things for the US team.
Since taking office, President Donald Trump has distanced himself somewhat from the two-state solution — the outcome favored by the international community, including Trump’s predecessors, for the past two decades.
Instead, he has said he would support Palestinian independence only if Israel agrees. The European Union, meanwhile, along with the rest of the international community, remains committed to the two-state solution.
These differences were evident at a meeting Wednesday between Netanyahu and the German foreign minister, Sigmar Gabriel.
In an awkward exchange, Gabriel said his country is “very much in favor” of the two-state solution.
“I was very thankful to hear that of course also the government of Israel wants to have two states, but (with secure) borders,” he said.
Netanyahu broke in with a clarification.
He said Israel’s “first condition,” would be to control security west of the Jordan River, an area that includes all of the West Bank, the heartland of the Palestinians’ hoped-for state.
“Whether or not it is defined as a state when we have the military control is another matter,” he said. “I’d rather not discuss labels, but substance.”
That suggests Israel would prefer something most observers would more likely define as autonomy than independence — an arrangement that would have few if any equivalents in the world.
The Palestinians claim all of the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, areas captured by Israel in 1967, for their state. Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, but it has settled over 600,000 people in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, making it increasingly difficult to partition the land.
Nabil Abu Rdeneh, spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said the Palestinians would not accept the presence of “one Israeli soldier” on sovereign Palestinian lands.
“Either there will be full Palestinian sovereignty or there will be no security, no peace and no stability,” he said.
Advocates of the two-state solution, including Israel’s opposition parties, have long argued that the establishment of a Palestinian state is essential for Israel’s own survival. Without a Palestinian state, they say that the number of Jews and Arabs under Israeli control will be roughly equal.
Israel would then have to choose between granting millions of Palestinians citizenship, threatening the country’s status as a Jewish-majority democracy, or turning into an apartheid-like state where Jews and Palestinians have different sets of rights.
It is far from certain that Netanyahu’s envisioned solution would ease international concerns over Israel’s half-century occupation over the Palestinians.
The Palestinians have long been suspicious of Trump’s Mideast team, led by his son-in-law Jared Kushner, due to their deep connections to Israel and years of support to the West Bank settlement movement.
Those suspicions deepened after Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital last month. The Palestinians accused Trump of siding with Israel and said they would no longer accept the US as a mediator.
Palestinian officials now claim that Trump’s team is working with Israel on a plan that would give them a mini-state in roughly half of the West Bank, with Israel retaining overall security control, as well as control over Jerusalem and its holy sites. Final borders and the fate of Israel’s dozens of settlements would be decided later. The officials say a third country with close ties to the US recently presented details of the proposal.
When they tried to negotiate improvements, they say they were told it was a “take it or leave it” plan. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were discussing a classified diplomatic issue.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Officials have said recently that the White House is still working on its proposal, and have refused to say when it might be unveiled.
On Wednesday, European officials urged the administration not to go it alone.
“Any framework for negotiations must be multilateral and must involve all players,” EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said in Brussels. “Nothing without the United States, nothing with the United States alone.”
At an academic conference in Tel Aviv, Gabriel, the German foreign minister, expressed grave concern for Israel’s future, saying the government’s ambivalence toward a Palestinian state showed a lack of direction and suggesting that Trump’s unflinching support wasn’t necessarily in Israel’s best interest.
Gabriel said that in Europe “there is clearly growing frustration with Israel’s actions,” and asked Israelis: “How do you want Israel’s future to look like? Are you prepared to pay the price of perpetual occupation?“


Jordan weighs up Russian offer for voluntary return of Syrian refugees

Destroyed buildings following an explosion on Aug. 12 at an arms depot in a residential area in Syria’s Idlib province city of Sarmada. (AFP)
Updated 16 August 2018
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Jordan weighs up Russian offer for voluntary return of Syrian refugees

  • Russia has offered to repatriate the Syrians by the end of 2018 but Jordan does not want to force displaced Syrians to return to their homeland
  • Jordan would benefit from reopening its border with Syria, but also carried risks of terrorists enter the country with fake IDs

AMMAN: Russia will help Jordan repatriate more than 150,000 Syrian refugees who fled fighting with the Assad regime in the country’s south, a Jordanian official said.

The official said Russia will repatriate the Syrians by the end of 2018 following the establishment of a center near the border with Syria to process their paperwork.

Jordan’s Minister for Media Affairs Jumana Ghneimat said the Russian proposal has been under discussion.

The Jordanian government refused to force displaced Syrians to return to their homeland, she said.

“It is up to the refugee to decide whether he wants to return, although the presence of large numbers of Syrians has become a burden for Jordan.”

The refugees are mainly from the war-ravaged provinces of Daraa, Quneitra and Sweida, the scene of fierce clashes between rebels and Assad government forces. 

Ghneimat said the establishment of a processing center nine kilometers from the border with Syria was part of Russia’s larger proposal for the return of the refugees.

Asked about the reopening of the Nassib border crossing, the minister said it was up to Syria to decide if the crossing would be operational.

The Assad regime had not asked Jordan to reopen the border, she said.

The Jordanian border crossing of Jaber is ready to operate and roads leading to the site are secure, Ghneimat said.

A technical team, including several ministry representatives, visited the crossing last week on a tour of inspection.

Jordan would benefit from reopening the border, which is an important avenue for trade with Syria, Lebanon, Turkey and several European countries, a transport ministry official said.

But reopening the border carried risks, including a fear that terrorists would enter the country with fake IDs, the official said.

The closure of the Jordan-Syrian border had severely affected Jordan’s transport sector, the head of the Syndicate of Jordanian Truck Owners said.

But he said that Jordanian trucks are ready to carry goods to Syria as soon as the border crossing is reopened. Before the Syrian crisis erupted in 2011, about 7,000 trucks drove through the crossing each day.