JERUSALEM – Palestinians can accept a limited Israeli presence in the West Bank for up to three years after a peace deal, but reject demands for a transition period of more than 10 years, their leader said in comments broadcast Tuesday.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas reiterated a long-standing position, suggesting that there's been little movement in U.S.-mediated talks toward narrowing the gaps between the two sides.
In an interview broadcast at an Israeli security conference, Abbas appeared to be speaking about the Jordan Valley, an area in the West Bank that borders Jordan and has become a central issue in Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. Israel wants a continued presence along the strategic border and Palestinians demand they withdraw once a Palestinian state is formed.
Israel has traditionally viewed the valley as a buffer against possible Arab attack from the east, though Israeli security experts are now split on whether the Jewish state needs to maintain control there in an era when long-range rockets may pose a greater threat than tanks. Israel also has a peace treaty with Jordan.
"I am saying that clearly that whoever proposes 10 or 15 years for a transition period does not want to withdraw. We say that a transitional period should not exceed three years during which Israel can withdraw gradually," Abbas said.
Abbas said a third party like NATO could take over security arrangements during the withdrawal time.
"The border of the Palestinian state will eventually be in the hands of the Palestinians, not the Israeli army," Abbas said. "This opportunity for peace might not return," he added, saying a peace agreement would earn Israel the recognition of "57 Arab and Muslim states" from "Mauritania to Indonesia."
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is expected to return to the region in the coming weeks with a proposed "framework" for a final peace deal. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stressed Tuesday that Israel does "not have to agree" to all the U.S. positions in the framework.
Speaking at the same security conference Tuesday evening, Netanyahu said: "We will soon know if it is possible to continue negotiations with the Palestinians."
He said a peace agreement would demand "strong security arrangements" to protect against Palestinian attacks.
Israel withdrew its soldiers and settlers from the Gaza Strip in 2005, and the Islamic militant group Hamas later took over the territory and used it to fire thousands of mortars and rockets into the Jewish state. Netanyahu said he doesn't want another "terror state" on its borders. Netanyahu said an agreement must ensure "a long time Israeli military presence along the Jordan River" and other security arrangements that Israel would be responsible for. He did not elaborate on the time frame.
Netanyahu reiterated his position that the Palestinians must recognize Israel as the Jewish national homeland and that Palestinian incitement in their media, schools and mosques must end for peace to succeed.
He said recognition of the Jewish state is at the "root of the conflict," as it predates settlements and other issues at the heart of the negotiations.