Palestinians want US to serve as proxy in border talks

By Mohammed Daraghmeh
Associated Press / January 21, 2010

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RAMALLAH, West Bank - Mahmoud Abbas has proposed that the Obama administration negotiate the final borders of a Palestinian state with Israel, a Palestinian official said yesterday as a US envoy headed to the region to try to restart the peace talks.

Such a proxy arrangement could provide a way around the deadlock over reviving Israeli-Palestinian talks, which broke off more than a year ago. The Palestinian president says he will not return to the table without a complete Israeli settlement freeze, something Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel has refused to do.

As an alternative, US officials could replace Palestinian negotiators in border talks with Israel, said an Abbas aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the internal meetings. The US negotiators would be given parameters, the aide said.

The state would have to be established in the territories Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast War - the West Bank, Gaza, and east Jerusalem - but Palestinians would agree to swap up to 3 percent of the territory to accommodate some Israeli settlements, the aide said.

Abbas made the proposal in recent meetings with Egyptian officials, who passed the idea along to Washington, the aide said. It was not clear how the Americans reacted.

Meanwhile, Netanyahu said yesterday that Israel must have a presence in the West Bank to stop rockets from being imported even after a peace agreement is achieved - the first time such a demand has been spelled out.

He said the experience of rocket attacks from the Lebanese and Gaza borders means Israel must be able to prevent such weapons from being brought into any future Palestinian state in the West Bank.

“We cannot afford to have that across from the center of our country,’’ he told foreign reporters in Jerusalem.

“In the case of a future settlement with the Palestinians, this will require an Israeli presence on the eastern side of a prospective Palestinian state.’’

That Netanyahu speaks openly about Palestinian statehood is noteworthy in itself, even if he saddles the talk with caveats.

The hard-line prime minister who leads a coalition largely opposed to territorial compromise had long hesitated to accept the concept of Palestinian statehood, capitulating only in June under heavy US pressure.

Officials at the US Consulate in Jerusalem, which serves the West Bank, had no comment.