Israel rejects US proposals on Jordan Valley
JERUSALEM (AFP) — Israel rejects any US-proposed security concessions for the Jordan Valley, a cabinet member close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday, as US Secretary John Kerry visited the Middle East.
“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 Palestinians.
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.
Palestinian hopes of having an international force brought in to help patrol the Jordan Valley under a peace deal had been sidelined, a Palestinian source told AFP Saturday.
Instead the US was proposing a mixed Israeli-Palestinian military presence to ensure security in the area, without setting a deadline when the Israeli troops would be withdrawn.
But Israel insists on maintaining a long-term military presence in the Jordan Valley.
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.
Direct negotiations began in July between Israel and the Palestinians in a US-led attempt to restart the deadlocked peace process.
Israel has announced plans to build thousands of homes in illegal settlements across the West Bank over the course of the talks, inhibiting US efforts.
The Palestinian negotiating team resigned in protest against continued Israeli settlement construction in mid-November, dealing a major blow to negotiations between Israel and the PLO that had already been stalled.
Negotiator Mohammed Shtayyeh told AFP at the time that they resigned in response to “increasing settlement building (by Israel) and the absence of any hope of achieving results,” following Netanyahu’s announcement that Israel would build 20,000 new settlement homes in the West Bank.
The internationally recognized Palestinian territories of which the West Bank and East Jerusalem form a part have been occupied by the Israeli military since 1967.
Ma’an staff contributed to this report.