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Abbas sets ‘reasonable’ 3-year frame for Israel pullout

By AFP - Jan 28,2014 - Last updated at Jan 28,2014

TEL AVIV — Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has said an Israeli withdrawal from Palestinian territory should take place within a three-year period under any final Middle East peace deal.

His remarks came as an April deadline loomed for faltering US-backed peace talks, which have been in deadlock over the issue of future security arrangements and other core disputes.

Hawkish Israeli Cabinet ministers, meanwhile, spoke out against making concessions to the Palestinians, highlighting seemingly irreconcilable differences that would need to be overcome for a lasting peace agreement.

“Those who are proposing 10 to 15 years [before a withdrawal] do not want to withdraw at all,” Abbas said in an interview screened on Tuesday at the annual conference of the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) taking place in Tel Aviv.

“We say that in a reasonable time frame, no longer than three years, Israel can withdraw gradually,” he said.

Israel wants to maintain a long-term military presence in the Jordan Valley, where the West Bank borders Jordan, but the Palestinians insist Israeli troops must completely withdraw, making way for an international force.

“We have no problem with there being a third party present after or during the withdrawal, to reassure Israel and to reassure us that the process will be completed,” Abbas said.

“We think NATO is the appropriate party to undertake this mission.”

“The Palestinian borders must, in the end, be held by Palestinians and not by the Israeli army,” he added.

Abbas reiterated Palestinian demands that a two-state solution be based on the lines which existed before the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip in 1967, and said East Jerusalem must be the Palestinian capital.

But hawkish Israeli Cabinet ministers speaking at the conference voiced fierce opposition to any Palestinian demands, particularly that of territory.

“Our ancestors will never forgive an Israeli leader who divides our land and our capital,” Economy Minister Naftali Bennett said, in a veiled warning to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Bennett also criticised US efforts to bring about a peace agreement.

“Anyone who comes up with a bizarre idea in the Western world, they say, let’s try it out on the Jews,” he said, referring to reports of the possibility Jewish settlers could remain in the West Bank and lease their land from a future Palestinian state.

“The state of Israel is not your laboratory,” he said, apparently addressing US Secretary of State John Kerry, who kick-started talks in July and has been on 11 visits to the region.

‘An ocean of peace’

Palestinian negotiators complain that Israel is trying to sideline their demands in the talks — such as future borders — by imposing their own agenda of security in the Jordan Valley and Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state.

The Palestinians recognised Israel more than two decades ago but have refused to recognise its religious character, fearing that doing so would undermine the “right of return” of Palestinian refugees from past Arab-Israeli wars.

“They say there’s no justification for the Jewish state. That’s what we have to grapple with,” Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon said at the conference.

“Even if we cede to their territorial claims ... that still won’t be the end of the Palestinians’ demands,” he said.

The two sides began a nine-month track of US-backed peace negotiations in July but so far there has been little visible progress, with the Palestinians warning that after the deadline they could take legal action in international courts against Israel over its settlement expansion on land they want for their future state.

“I hope we succeed so we don’t have to resort to legal or diplomatic or political confrontation on the world stage,” Abbas said.

“A solution will bring Israel recognition from 57 Muslim countries, a clear, straightforward and diplomatic recognition between these countries and Israel,” Abbas added.

“I hope the Israeli people can understand what it is to be in an ocean of peace, from Mauritania to Indonesia, rather than in an island of peace as it is at the moment.”

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