PM suggests buying some of the land from Palestinians.
By Barak Ravid 16th January , 2014 Haaretz
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has demanded that Israel retain a fourth settlement bloc in addition to three it has already demanded in negotiations with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who has been working to hammer out a framework peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.
The settlement bloc in question is in the vicinity of Beit El, adjacent to Ramallah in the central West Bank. Israel has already laid claim to three other settlement blocs – Ariel, Gush Etzion and Ma'aleh Adumim. Settlement blocs refer to areas in the West Bank where the majority of Jewish communities are located.
Palestinians fiercely oppose the latest Israeli request, according to an Israeli source who has been briefed by the Americans.
Netanyahu wants to annex the four blocs but, according to the Israeli source, at this stage opposes compensating the Palestinians with a land swap of equal size and quality. The prime minister did, however, raise the possibility of buying some of the land on which the settlement blocs rest from the Palestinians and compensating them for other parts with land that is in Israel proper.
In recent weeks, Netanyahu has made several public remarks about Beit El remaining under Israeli sovereignty as part of a peace agreement with the Palestinians. At a Likud faction meeting last week, for example, Netanyahu said, "We will not forgo places that others have relinquished in the past."
He also said that Hebron and Beit El are not part of settlement blocs, but "they are important to the Jewish people," and will not be evacuated.
In a recent cabinet meeting, Netanyahu also said, "We are not foreigners in Jerusalem, we are not foreigners in Beit El, we are not foreigners in Hebron. He added, "We want to reach an agreement, but that agreement cannot erase the state of Israel's rights or the rights of the Jewish people."
Netanyahu's latest demand was first revealed Thursday on Army Radio.
- Israel to take harder line on occupied territory: report
- 17 January, 2014 Canberra Times Reuters
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures as he addresses the foreign media during a reception marking the new year in Jerusalem. Photo: Reuters
Jerusalem: Israel's prime minister has increased the amount of occupied territory he wants to keep after any peace deal with the Palestinians, Israeli radio reported on Thursday, a move that could complicate US-backed efforts to reach an accord.
Benjamin Netanyahu's spokesman declined to comment on the report that he had added a bloc of Israeli-settled land near the Palestinian governmental seat in the occupied West Bank to a list of enclaves Israel intends to retain.
That would leave 13 per cent of the West Bank in Israeli hands, Israel's Army Radio said, a prospect likely to dismay Palestinians who want the area for a future state.
There was no immediate comment from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. But a Palestinian official, who asked not to be identified, rejected the notion of Israel keeping large clusters of settlements.
"We are saying that once we agree on the withdrawal to 1967 borders, we can accept minor exchanges of land on a case-by-case basis," the official said, referring to lines - described by Israel as indefensible - pre-dating the 1967 war in which it captured the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.
According to the report, Mr Netanyahu told US Secretary of State John Kerry that Israel intends to hold on to the Beit El settlement enclave in addition to the Etzion, Maale Adumim and Ariel blocs it has long insisted it would keep.
Beit El, north of Jerusalem, is next to the city of Ramallah, where Mr Abbas's Palestinian Authority is headquartered.
Army Radio said Mr Netanyahu had also departed from past peace blueprints that had envisaged an equal trade of land inside Israel for any West Bank areas it retained.
Instead, the station reported, Mr Netanyahu has offered to buy some of the settlement land from the Palestinians, but they had rejected such a deal.
The radio attributed its information to an anonymous source familiar with the details of five-month-old, US-brokered peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.
Army Radio said Mr Netanyahu spoke to Mr Kerry about a biblical connection to Beit El, and its depiction in the Book of Genesis as the place where Jacob dreamt about a ladder to heaven.
The future of settlements is a core issue in the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Palestinians fear Israeli enclaves will deny them contiguous terrain they see as crucial to a viable country.
Israel, along with the release of dozens of Palestinian prisoners as part of the talks, has stoked Palestinian anger by announcing settlement housing in areas it hopes to retain.
Mr Netanyahu's demands for an Israeli troop presence in the West Bank's Jordan Valley, the likely eastern border of a future Palestinian state, have also been rejected by Palestinians.
Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz said on Israel Radio on Thursday that keeping settlers in the valley was also vital to Israel's security interests.
Palestinians seek a state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip with East Jerusalem as its capital. In 2005, Israel pulled its troops and settlers out of the Gaza Strip.
More than 500,000 Israeli settlers live among 2.4 million Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The settlements have been deemed illegal under international law.
Mr Netanyahu visited Amman on Thursday to discuss the peace process with Jordan's King Abdullah. An Israeli statement said Mr Netanyahu "emphasised that Israel places a premium on security arrangements, including Jordan's interest in any future agreement" with the Palestinians.
Jordan signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1994.