Steinitz: Israel Rejects US Plans for the Jordan Valley
Israel rejects any US-proposed security concessions for the Jordan Valley, AFP reported Sunday, as US Secretary of State John Kerry visited the Middle East for the tenth time since last year.
"Security must remain in our hands. Anyone who proposes a solution in the Jordan Valley by deploying an international force, Palestinian police or technological means ... does not understand the Middle East," Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz told Israeli public radio.
Steinitz's comments came after three days of intense shuttle diplomacy by Kerry, who was trying to push a framework for final status talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA).
With a late April deadline looming for the negotiations that he kick-started in July after a three-year hiatus, Kerry has pledged to work even more intensively in the coming months.
US officials have refused to release any details of the proposed framework, and Kerry acknowledged it would not be agreed during this trip.
Kerry has said a peace treaty will deal with all the core issues dividing the two sides. These include the contours of a future Palestinian state, refugees, the fate of Jerusalem claimed by both as a capital, security, and mutual recognition.
"I can guarantee all parties that President (Barack) Obama and I are committed to putting forward ideas that are fair and balanced, and to improving the security of all peoples," Kerry told reporters in Jerusalem.
Kerry insisted Saturday that there had been "progress" in the talks that he kick-started in July, despite bitter recriminations by both sides and mostly irreconcilable demands for any future peace deal.
"We're not there yet, but we are making progress," Kerry said Saturday, adding everyone was "working with great intensity" to try to reach a deal.
"I'm confident that the talks we've had in the past two days have already fleshed out and even resolved certain kinds of issues and presented new opportunities for others," he said. "We are beginning to flesh out the toughest hurdles yet to be overcome."
Kerry is set to continue his tour of the region to Jordan on Sunday. While Israel has said before that Kerry's plan could be an opening for negotiations, PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas has rejected the plan, and called an Arab League emergency meeting in which Arab states rejected the plan as well.
Despite both sides opposing such a deal, rumors have surfaced that Kerry will seek to "force" the plan on Netanyahu next month.
The US's security plan involves a slow transition from IDF patrols over the region to Palestinian Authority (PA) forces, with an international presence, according to reports. IDF drones would also be deployed over the area, as a means of gathering information about any terrorist activity that could potentially develop there.
The Israeli government has insisted that the region is of crucial importance to Israel's future, and has been critical of plans to hand over the area to the PA. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has insisted that in the event that Israel withdrew from Judea and Samaria, as per Kerry's plans, the Jordan Valley be kept under Israeli control.
MK Orit Struk explained Saturday night that the chances of accepting such a deal are slim for various reasons, including a referendum law dictating that a deal must be passed through the Knesset, and the political stance of the current coalition.
"There is a very clear statement here that there is no possibility at all for the Prime Minister to adopt Kerry's proposals," Struk stated. "We have a bipartisan wall extending deep into the ruling party preventing a deal. Here is a very clear statement that the Jordan Valley will remain forever under the sovereignty of Israel."