JERUSALEM, Jan. 5 (JTA) The Israeli-Palestinian peace track, overshadowed by the ongoing Israeli-Syrian negotiations in West Virginia, is emerging from its recent doldrums.
After nearly two months of disagreements, Israel on Wednesday began withdrawing from an additional 5 percent of the West Bank.
In addition, the two sides have been meeting daily in an attempt to nail down a framework for a final peace deal by a previously agreed mid-February target date.
The head of the Israeli team, Oded Eran, said this week some progress has been made in the final-status talks. He added that he was optimistic the framework could be reached, if not by the middle of February, then a few weeks later.
For his part, Palestinian spokesman Nabil Abu Irdeineh said Wednesday it is still “too early to judge” whether the framework accord will be reached by the target date.
Wednesday’s redeployment was initially slated to take place Nov. 15, but was held up by Palestinian demands that they have a say in which portions of the West Bank be turned over to their control.
But the two sides reached a compromise Tuesday, when the Palestinian Authority agreed to use Israel’s original redeployment maps. Israel in turn agreed to be open to Palestinian requests for the next withdrawal, slated for Jan. 20.
A day later, Israel withdrew from army bases in the West Bank towns of Nablus and Jenin.
As a result of the latest withdrawal, which was expected to be completed by Thursday, the Palestinian Authority will have sole control over an additional 2 percent of the region and gain joint control over an additional 3 percent.
The withdrawal is the second of three called for in a land-for-security agreement the two sides reached last September in Egypt.
By Jan. 20, when the third withdrawal is scheduled, the Palestinians are due to control nearly 40 percent of the territory.
On Wednesday, Palestinian officials denied that they had agreed to go ahead with the latest Israeli redeployment for fear that they would be left behind by the Israeli-Syrian track.
The Israeli-Palestinian negotiations are a “parallel track, not a competitive” one, said Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat.
Along with its redeployment on Wednesday, Israel also released 22 Palestinians jailed for common crimes in a goodwill gesture to mark the end this week of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.
The release was not called for under any of the interim agreements reached between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
Last week, Israel freed a total of 33 Palestinian prisoners a move that was called for in last September’s agreement.