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?“


Field fires in Syria's Hasakeh kill 10: monitor

Updated 16 June 2019
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Field fires in Syria's Hasakeh kill 10: monitor

  • Civilians and SDF forces are among the dead
  • Some people are claiming the fires were set on purpose

]QAMISHLI: Fires engulfing vital wheat fields across Syria’s northeast have killed at least 10 people, a war monitor said Sunday, as Kurdish authorities claim the blazes were set deliberately.
Kurdish authorities and the Damascus regime are competing to buy up this year’s harvest as fires — some claimed by the Daesh group — continue to scorch crops in the country’s breadbasket.
The victims included civilians and members of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces who died while trying to extinguish the blazes since Saturday, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The fires in the Kurdish-majority province of Hasakah also wounded another five people, according to a spokesman for the Kurdish Red Crescent.
“The victims were trying to douse the blaze but they were trapped by the fire,” Kamal Derbas said.
Kurdish officials have called on the US-led coalition to help extinguish blazes in the cereal and oil-rich region under their control.
“The largest fires have ravaged up to 350,000 hectares of land,” head of the Kurdish agriculture authority Salman Baroudo told AFP.
He claimed the fires were “deliberate,” saying they serve to “stir up strife between area residents and undermine the Kurdish administration” in the country’s northeast.
He did not specify who he believed was behind the blazes.
The official state news agency SANA on Saturday blamed the field fires in Hasakah on Kurdish-led forces.
It said they deliberately sparked a blaze to prevent local farmers from selling their crops to the government.
Analysts say wheat will be key to ensuring affordable bread prices and keeping the peace in various parts of the country in the coming period.
Farmers have separately blamed the fires on revenge attacks, sparks from low-quality fuel, and even carelessness.
SANA said Saturday that other field fires in the northwestern countryside of Hama province were sparked by jihadist artillery attacks.
Clashes in the area on Saturday between government forces and militants left dozens of combatants dead, including 26 pro-regime fighters, the Observatory said.
More than 370,000 people have been killed in Syria’s war since it erupted in 2011 with a violent crackdown on anti-government protests.