Israel denies reported plan to retain most of West Bank

JERUSALEM, May 29 (JTA) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly plans to offer the Palestinians control of 40 percent of the West Bank in permanent settlement talks. The Israeli daily Ha’aretz published a map Thursday which it said represented how the West Bank would look under Netanyahu’s plan. The extent of the West Bank he would turn over under the reported plan falls far short of the expectations of the Palestinian Authority. According to the map, Israel would maintain a 9-mile-wide corridor along the Jordan Valley. Almost all Jewish settlements would remain under Israeli control by widening the greater Jerusalem area in all directions toward Ma’aleh Adumim, Kfar Adumim and the Etzion settlement bloc. The corridor between Jerusalem and the coastal plain would also be widened, to the north and south. The few settlements that would remain near the Palestinian towns of Nablus and Jenin would be in Palestinian territory or evacuated, the report said. Safe passage routes would connect the West Bank and Gaza Strip self-rule areas. Additional corridors would link Palestinian towns. Four corridors for Israeli use would cross the West Bank to the Jordan Valley. The prime minister denied the report. “There is no basis to that report because I did not show to anyone [a map] nor did I draw a map,” Netanyahu told Israel Radio. The Inner Security Cabinet this week began discussing the principles that would govern Israeli positions in the final status negotiations, which are slated to address the highly charged issues of borders, Jerusalem, settlements, refugees and the Palestinian political entity. Commenting on the published map, National Infrastructure Minister Ariel Sharon said it was not so different from a proposal he put forward more than 20 years ago. Sharon said that any final agreement would have to break up territorial continuity to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state. Ha’aretz reported that in a February meeting in Washington with President Clinton, Netanyahu presented a map prepared by the Israel Defense Force planning branch for the final-status talks. Clinton did not express his views, and Netanyahu did not offer details on his conception of final borders. The report said that Netanyahu’s plan is not finalized, and that he has instructed government bodies, including the Foreign Ministry and IDF to draw up position papers on the negotiations. Palestinian officials reacted angrily to the report. “Netanyahu can continue dreaming,” the head of the Palestinian preventive security service, Jibril Rajoub, told reporters in Ramallah. “This is Palestinian land, and it must be returned to its people.” Rajoub blamed the ongoing deadlock in peace negotiations on Israel’s failure to live up to its commitments in the signed accords. He warned that if Israel did not change its policies, especially with regard to settlements, violence could break out. “If the Israeli government is not respecting the agreements, all options are open, including violence and confrontation,” he said. Egyptian presidential adviser Osama Al-Baz was due to hold talks with Netanyahu on Thursday night, in a follow-up to the Israeli leader’s summit meet with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak earlier this week. Baz met with Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat in Gaza on Wednesday to brief him on the summit, which Egypt initiated in an effort to break the deadlock in the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Ha’aretz reported that during the summit, Netanyahu offered to initiate large-scale building for Palestinians near the new Jewish neighborhood of Har Homa in southeastern Jerusalem, and to suspend the demolition of illegally built Arab houses in areas of the West Bank that are under Israeli control. However, the Palestinians have stuck to their demand for a halt to all settlement construction. In an interview earlier this week, Arafat said that building for Arabs in Jerusalem was no substitute to an end to Israeli settlement activity.

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