Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu met Thursday with United States envoy George Mitchell to discuss the indirect, US-mediated Israeli-Palestinian Authority talks. Netanyahu pledged to make “confidence-building measures” to the PA.
Analysts said Netanyahu is likely to turn more PA cities over to full Arab control. The PA deployed its armed police force in several cities during negotiations with Ehud Olmert's administration, which preceded Netanyahu's; Netanyahu is expected to suggest additional cities in which Israel will turn over responsibility for fighting terrorism to the PA.
Netanyahu may also agree to release PA Arabs held in Israeli prisons for terror-related offenses. Olmert released hundreds of terrorists in “good-will gestures” to the PA. Netanyahu has released some as well.
The prime minister is expected to tell Mitchell that Israel will give up land in Samaria in order to allow the construction of a highway for PA Arab use in the Ramallah area.
Erekat: Start With What Olmert Offered
PA negotiator Saib Erekat recently indicated that the PA no longer accepts some conditions agreed on during previous negotiations. In the past, talks took place under the assumption that a PA state would have a limited military, and that Israel would maintain its military presence in strategic regions such as the Jordan Valley. However, in a speech in Tel Aviv Erekat said, “There's talk of a limited military, but that doesn't mean a military that is not respected. We won't agree to that. We won't agree to [Israeli] military presence in the Jordan River Valley, or to [Israeli] control at sea.”
The PA wants to begin negotiations with what Olmert offered, Erekat said. He claimed that the previous prime minister offered to give the PA most of Judea and Samaria, and to swap land within pre-1967 Israel for the annexation of Israeli cities in Judea and Samaria. Olmert discussed “everything” regarding Jerusalem, he said.
PA Opens Diplomatic Offensive
As indirect talks continue, the PA has opened a diplomatic offensive against Israel on the international scene. In addition to leading a boycott of Israeli products produced in Judea and Samaria, senior PA officials are hoping to isolate Israel on the world stage.
Nabil Shaath, a senior Fatah official, said Wednesday that the PA must work to isolate Israel so completely that the Jewish state will be expelled from the United Nations. More immediately, Israel must be prevented from strengthening its ties with the European Union, he said.
Shaath, who spoke at a conference in Ramallah that was broadcast to Gaza, said he does not expect negotiations between the PA and Israel to achieve their aim. While talks continue, the PA should send daily messages to the US reporting any failure on Israel's part to follow through with offered concessions, he said.