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

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?“


At least 13 people drown in migrant shipwreck off Libya

Updated 3 min 58 sec ago

At least 13 people drown in migrant shipwreck off Libya

CAIRO: Over a dozen migrants trying to reach Europe drowned in the Mediterranean Sea when their small dinghy capsized off the coast of Libya, the United Nations reported Friday, the latest shipwreck to underscore the deadly risks facing those who flee the war-afflicted North African country.
Libyan fishermen spotted the sinking boat late Thursday, said the International Organization for Migration, and managed to pull 22 people from the water, including those from Egypt, Bangladesh, Syria, Somalia and Ghana.
But at least 13 of the other passengers were missing and presumed drowned. Three dead bodies were found floating in the water, including one Syrian man and woman. The boat had set off from the town of Zliten, east of the Libyan capital of Tripoli, late on Wednesday.
The Libyan Coast Guard said that it had ordered the rescue, and that search teams were scouring the area for more victims.
“So many boats are leaving these days, but autumn is a very difficult season,” said Commodore Masoud Abdal Samad. “When it gets windy, it’s deadly. It changes in an instant.”
Following the 2011 uprising that ousted and killed longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi, Libya has emerged as the dominant transit point for migrants hoping to get to Europe from Africa and the Middle East. Smugglers often pack desperate families into ill-equipped rubber boats that stall and founder along the perilous Central Mediterranean route. At least 20,000 people have died in those waters since 2014, according to the UN
Those who survived Friday’s disaster were taken to the Tripoli port, where they received medical care for their burns, a common consequence of leaked engine fuel mixing with saltwater, said Safa Msehli, an IOM spokeswoman.
Libyan authorities shepherded the survivors to the Zliten detention center, run by the Tripoli-based government’s Interior Ministry. Migrants rescued at sea and returned to Libya routinely land in detention centers notorious for torture, extortion and abuse. Amnesty International revealed in a report Thursday that thousands of migrants have been forcibly disappeared from unofficial militia-run detention centers.
The shipwreck, the second to be recorded by the UN in as many weeks, “signals the need now more than ever for state-led search and rescue capacity to be redeployed and the need to support NGO vessels operating in a vacuum,” said Msehli.
Since 2017, European countries, particularly Italy, have delegated most search-and-rescue responsibility to the Libyan Coast Guard, which intercepts migrant boats before they can reach European waters. Activists have lamented that European authorities are increasingly blocking the work of nongovernmental rescue organizations that patrol the Mediterranean and seek to disembark at European ports.