RAMALLAH, West Bank, (AP) – Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday laid out his most specific demands for the borders of a future independent state, calling for a full Israeli withdrawal from all territories captured in the 1967 Mideast war.
Abbas’ claim comes as Israeli and Palestinian negotiating teams are trying to hammer out a joint vision for a future peace deal in time for a U.S.-hosted conference next month.
In a a new confidence-building gesture to Abbas, Israel agreed Wednesday to grant residency permits to thousands of Palestinians who have been living illegally in the West Bank on expired visitors’ visas.
Abbas’ comments appeared to set the stage for tough negotiations, which are expected to include complicated arrangements such as land swaps and shared control over holy sites. Israel is seeking to retain parts of the West Bank and east Jerusalem.
In a television interview, Abbas said the Palestinians want to establish a state on 6,205 square kilometers (2,400 square miles) of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. It was the first time he has given a precise number for the amount of land he is seeking.
“We have 6,205 square kilometers in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip,” Abbas told Palestine TV. “We want it as it is.”
According to Palestinian negotiating documents obtained by The Associated Press, the Palestinian demands include all of the Gaza Strip, West Bank, east Jerusalem and small areas along the West Bank frontier that were considered no man’s land before the 1967 war.
Abbas said his claim is backed by U.N. resolutions. “This is our vision for the Palestinian independent state with full sovereignty on its borders, water and resources.”
Israeli government spokeswoman Miri Eisin declined to comment, saying she did not want to prejudice negotiations. But the Palestinian demands appear to exceed anything that Israel would be willing to offer.
Israeli and Palestinian negotiators held their first working meeting this week in advance of next month’s conference in Annapolis, Maryland. The U.S. hopes the document will provide a launching ground for full-fledged negotiations on a final peace agreement.
Despite Abbas’ tough public stance, aides to Abbas said he has agreed in recent talks with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to exchange West Bank land Israel wants to keep in a final peace deal with an equal amount of Israeli land. This would allow Israel to annex the West Bank area where the settlement blocs are located.
As part of the proposal, Abbas offered Olmert about 2 percent of the West Bank, the aides said. Olmert is seeking some 6-8 percent of the West Bank, but has said the exact amount of territory should be decided in future negotiations. The aides spoke on condition of anonymity since they were not authorized to discuss sensitive diplomatic matters with the media.
In exchange for the West Bank land, Israel is reportedly considering transferring to the Palestinians a strip of area between the Gaza Strip and West Bank to allow for a connection between them. About 40 kilometers (25 miles) of Israeli territory separates the two Palestinian territories.
Abbas said the joint statement at the conference must deal with the main hurdles preventing a final peace agreement.
“The international conference must include the six major issues that are Jerusalem, refugees, borders, settlements, water and security,” Abbas said.
Meanwhile, Israel said it expects to complete a list of 5,000 Palestinians who will receive the residency permits ahead of the Muslim Eid el-Fitr holiday later this week. Shlomo Dror, an Israeli army spokesman, said further lists will be approved in the future
Hussein al-Sheikh, a Palestinian official overseeing the contacts, confirmed Israel had informed him of the decision, but said West Bank Palestinians were only allotted 3,500 permits. Israel rejected Palestinian demands to give permits to 1,500 people in Gaza.
The decision is significant for the Palestinians since more than 20,000 who visited the West Bank on tourist visas in recent years have been living in hiding since their travel permits expired.
The order doesn’t apply to an estimated 20,000 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.
According to the agreement, Abbas will issue the actual residency permits. Under past peace agreements, the Palestinians could not issue residency permits without Israel’s permission. Israel registered the Palestinians in its own records.
Also Wednesday, Israeli troops shot and killed a Palestinian militant in Nablus affiliated with Abbas’ Fatah and injured another, members of the armed group said. Witnesses said the Israeli soldiers entered Nablus’ Old City, known as a militant stronghold, disguised in Palestinian security forces uniforms and carrying rifles typical of the forces. Israeli military officials said troops fired toward two armed men, killing one and injuring another.