Israel may withdraw from '90 percent' of West Bank

June 27, 2013 at 2:30 AM
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JERUSALEM, June 27 (UPI) -- Israel would consider withdrawing from "90 percent" of the West Bank if Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's security demands are met, a Cabinet minister said.

Netanyahu knows if negotiations with Palestinian leaders resume under U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's auspices, Israel would have to be serious in its willingness to make big concessions on the borders of a Palestinian state, the unnamed senior minister told Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

Kerry, who arrives in Jerusalem Thursday, was to meet with Netanyahu in Jerusalem later in the day in his fifth visit to the Middle East since March. The secretary of state is trying to resuscitate the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, which has been deadlocked since 2010. He is scheduled to leave the region Saturday.

"Netanyahu understands that for a peace agreement, it will be necessary to withdraw from more than 90 percent of the West Bank and evacuate more than a few settlements," the minister told the newspaper. "He knows this is one of the things that will be discussed."

The issue of Israeli security is Netanyahu's main concern, and this will be his main demand in the negotiations, the minister said.

If his security demands are met, Netanyahu is prepared to make the territorial concessions, the minister said.

Among other points, Netanyahu wants the future Palestinian state to be demilitarized and wants the Israeli military to be able to remain along the Jordan River for some time, even if Israel gives up sovereignty in the area, the minister told Haaretz.

The offices of Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas had no immediate comment on the report.

Abbas repeated Wednesday his frequent statement he would return to peace talks if Israel accepted pre-1967 borders with minor adjustments as the starting point for negotiations.

He also said, "We hope Kerry is carrying something important and new because we care about the success of the peace process."

Kerry said Wednesday he wanted meaningful progress toward a Middle East peace agreement in the next several weeks.

He said he was not setting a firm deadline for resuming peace talks, but said time was an enemy of a comprehensive agreement and said it was important to make headway before the U.N. General Assembly resumes its debate over the Middle East in September.

"Long before September we need to be showing some kind of progress in some way because I don't think we have the luxury of that kind of time," Kerry said in Kuwait.

Palestinian newspaper al-Quds reported Wednesday Abbas and Netanyahu were scheduled to meet in Jordan with Kerry this weekend.

The newspaper quoted a Washington source as saying the Abbas-Netanyahu meeting would be followed by a series of meetings between chief Palestine Liberation Organization negotiator Saeb Erekat and Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who is in charge of negotiations with Palestinian leaders.

A top Palestinian Authority official in the West Bank city of Ramallah, the Authority's de facto administrative capital, would neither confirm nor deny the summit report.

An Israeli official told The Jerusalem Post he was unaware of such a summit but said Israeli-Palestinian meetings at the highest levels would be needed for Kerry's mission to succeed.

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