WASHINGTON (JTA) — Israel’s presence in the Jordan Valley under a peace agreement would be "phased," Israel’s U.S. ambassador told an audience of Muslim and Arab Americans.
Michael Oren at a dinner arranged by the Center for Middle East Peace said Wednesday night that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has "stated his commitment to continuing a phased Israeli army presence in the Jordan Valley."
"We understand that this may conflict with the search for dignity on the part of the Palestinians. That is why we stress the word phased," he said.
Netanyahu has made clear that he wants Israeli troops to remain in a demilitarized Palestinian state — a condition that Palestinian negotiators have said is unacceptable.
"The great fear is that this border during a period when the Palestinian state is still in its inchoate stages not entirely capable of guarding its borders will prove porous — will prove porous to hostile elements, will prove porous to ammunition and rockets," Oren told the group.
It was the second indication on Wednesday that such a presence would not be permanent under Netanyahu. Earlier in the day, Netanyahu spokesman Mark Regev said Israel’s presence may be reviewed.
"That presence can be reviewed over time, and in accordance with performance," Regev said, according to The Associated Press. "But initially it will be required in any peace agreement."
The Obama administration has raised the issue of backing a phased Israeli presence in the Jordan Valley as part of an incentives package to get Netanyahu to revive a partial settlement freeze in the West Bank. The Palestinians have suspended direct talks because of Netanyahu’s refusal to extend the freeze.
Oren’s encounter was part of an effort by the Center for Middle East Peace to bring together the parties to the Middle East conflicts with U.S. Diasporas that support the other side.
Under the center’s auspices, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has met twice this year with U.S. Jewish groups.
Arab Americans at the dinner pressed Oren on the difficulties for Arab Americans in obtaining visas allowing them entry into the West Bank, and for Gaza Palestinians who have won U.S.-sponsored Fulbright scholarships to leave for the United States.
On the visa issue, Oren said it was a security matter and the Israelis were working on it. On the Fulbrights, the ambassador said he was advocating hard for the visas to be granted and that he had had some recent success.