John Kerry and Mahmoud Abbas
John Kerry and Mahmoud AbbasAFP photo

In a statement, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's office denied that Israel had agreed to accept the 1949 armistice lines as the basis for renewed negotiations with the Palestinian Authority. Israeli officials had been quoted in earlier press reports as confirming the claim made by a top PA official.

“The report is untrue,” said Netanyahu spokesman Mark Regev, who reportedly called the media organization originally responsible for the misinformation, which spread like wildfire.

According to the reports, PA chief Mahmoud Abbas met with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry Thursday in Jordan to discuss conditions for restarting the talks. Abbas agreed to talks with Israel, the PA official said, as the result of Netanyahu's capitulating partially to two key PA demands: the Prime Minister reportedly agreed to at least a partial building freeze in Judea and Samaria, and agreed to announce that freeze publicly, and also agreed to negotiations on the basis of the pre-1967 lines.

The implications of that acceptance entails an implicit Israeli agreement to surrender the vast majority of land liberated in the 1967 Six Day War, except for the lands needed for security purposes. In the past, the PA has demanded that Israel also give up on the idea of settlement blocs, and have demanded that cities such as Ariel be evacuated and surrendered as part of any final arrangement with Israel.

As a result of Netanyahu's capitulation, the PA official said, Kerry is set to announced the resumption of talks before he leaves Amman Friday.

Kerry told reporters Wednesday morning after talks in Amman with PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas that the gaps between Israel and the PA had “very significantly” narrowed. The secretary’s meetings with Arab League officials this week, he said, had also served to “provide the ground and a suitable environment to start negotiations.”

Building freeze

While denying the part about the 1949 armistice lines, Netanyahu's office did not issue a denial of the building freeze claim.

Officials in Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria said that even if Netanyahu's office did issue a denial, it would be meaningless, as the government could in any case impose a “soft” building freeze, in which it just drags its feet on approving building plans and the like, as opposed to an official freeze.

In a Facebook post Thursday, former MK Yaakov Katz (Ketzaleh) said that Israelis should be very suspicious of the entire process.

“Everyone knows that if Abbas suddenly agrees to talks, it is because he was promised what he has demanded all along,” he wrote. “In the same way that the negotiations conducted by Bayit Yehudi under the leadership of Naftali Bennett have led to a 50% cut in the budget for Hesder yeshivas and National Religious educational institutions, so he is leading to the negotiations Netanyahu wants to conduct that will result in the establishment of a PA state,” he added.

Road blocks removed

Army Radio also reported Thursday that Israel is considering removing at least two strategic road blocks – one in Samaria, north of Ramallah, and one in the southern Hevron Hills, in Judea, close to the Jewish community of Beit Haggai – as a good will gesture to the Palestinian Authority for the holy Islamic month of 

Abbas is scheduled to meet with top Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) officials Thursday (today) to discuss the outcome of his two meetings with Kerry this week and to vote on whether to accept or reject Kerry’s proposal. 

A 2002 Arab League plan that originally called for Israel to be held to the 1949 Armistice Lines – which military experts have plainly said are indefensible – recently was modified by Qatar, which has raised the option of including land swaps to settle future borders.

The Arab League delegation that met with Kerry “expressed hope that this will lead to a launch of serious negotiations to address all final status issues to end the conflict and achieve a just and comprehensive peace between the Palestinians and Israelis which will bless the region with security, stability and prosperity... based on a two state solution through the establishment of an independent Palestinian state on the lines of the fourth of June 1967 with a limited exchange of territory of the same value and size.”