RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) – The Palestinians are ready to swap some land with Israel, although differences remain over the amount of territory to be traded, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Saturday after two rounds of U.S.-led indirect peace talks.
The negotiations began earlier this month, with U.S. envoy George Mitchell shuttling between Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Abbas’ comments marked the first time a participant has provided details about the talks.
Abbas said the first round dealt with borders and security arrangements between Israel and the state the Palestinians hope to establish in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with east Jerusalem as its capital.
Israel wants to annex major Jewish settlements in the war-won West Bank and east Jerusalem. In previous negotiations, the two sides agreed that Israel would swap some of its territory to compensate the Palestinians, but gaps remained on the amount of land to be traded.
Abbas dismissed recent media reports that the Palestinians are willing to trade more land than in the past, saying: “We did not agree about the land area, but we agreed on the principle of swapping land (equal) in quality and value.”
In 2008, the Palestinians offered to cede 1.9 percent of the West Bank to Netanyahu’s predecessor, Ehud Olmert. Olmert sought a 6.5 percent swap.
It is not clear whether Netanyahu accepts the idea of a land swap, and if so, how much of the West Bank he wants to keep. Israel has moved nearly half a million of its citizens into dozens of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem since capturing those territories in the 1967 Mideast War.
Netanyahu spokesman Mark Regev declined to comment on Abbas’ remarks and would not say whether Netanyahu agreed to the principle of land swaps.
“I cannot go into the content of the talks. If these talks are to succeed, and we hope that they do, they have to be done with discretion,” Regev said. A land swap would be crucial to any final agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. Talks resumed in early May after a 17-month breakdown.