JERUSALEM, (AFP) — Facing growing isolation over the impasse in peace talks, Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu is planning a new initiative to set up a Palestinian state within temporary borders, press reports said on Friday.
The Israeli premier is largely expected to announce his new diplomatic initiative during a visit to the United States in May, in an address to the US Congress or at the annual meeting of the pro-Israel lobby group AIPAC.
Details of the plan are still sketchy but the idea is believed to involve the establishment of a Palestinian state within temporary borders, while providing guarantees about talks on final status issues, the Maariv newspaper said.
With regard to Jewish settlements – the thorny issue which scuppered direct peace talks last September – Netanyahu’s plan would include a partial freeze on construction, but would permit building in the major settlement blocs as well as in occupied and annexed east Jerusalem, it said.
Netanyahu on Thursday met with senior White House advisers Dennis Ross and Fred Hoff, an official in the premier’s office said, for talks which were believed to focus on the new initiative.
So far, there has been no official comment on the plan but sources close to Netanyahu have in recent days spoken to the Israeli press about the need to implement a long-term interim agreement with the Palestinians.
“The prime minister has realised that the political impasse is not working in Israel’s favour,” one of Netanyahu’s advisers told the Haaretz newspaper.
The move, he said, was an attempt to both restart peace talks as well as to thwart Palestinian diplomatic efforts to secure unilateral recognition of an independent state.
“Following a few weeks of revolution in the Arab world, (Netanyahu) is convinced that there are opportunities, not just threats, and that it is important to take advantage of the situation to restart the peace process and put an end to the unilateral initiatives of the Palestinians.”
Since peace talks ran aground late last year over an intractable dispute about settlements, the Palestinians have been pursuing a raft of diplomatic initiatives aimed at garnering world support for a unilateral declaration of independence.
Israel is fiercely opposed to such a move, arguing that negotiations are the only way to end the conflict and establish a Palestinian state.
But there are also other reasons forcing Netanyahu to come up with a fresh political initiative, especially Israel’s growing diplomatic isolation.
That isolation was clearly demonstrated last month when 14 out of 15 members of the UN Security Council voted in favour of a resolution condemning Jewish settlement activity.
The resolution was only quashed after the United States cast a veto.
“Obama’s veto against the condemnation of West Bank settlements at the UN Security Council brought home to Netanyahu that Israel has no more friends in the international community,” Haaretz commentator Aluf Benn wrote.
“It was only the flick of Obama’s finger that prevented a huge diplomatic defeat for the prime minister,” he wrote, suggesting the new initiative was part of the price Israel was expected to pay.
“Now the time has come to cash in, and Obama will demand a price for his veto.”
News of Netanyahu’s intentions were leaked to the press as the Quartet sought to push both sides into renewing some kind of peace negotiations, which ran aground last autumn over an intractable dispute about settlements.
The Middle East Quartet of peacemakers — which groups the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations — are expected to meet in Paris later this month for talks aimed at jumpstarting the peace process.
Earlier this week, Palestinian negotiators met in Brussels with Quartet envoys to thrash out the parameters of a statement which will be issued at the end of the Paris meeting, sources in Ramallah told AFP.
Israel did not send anyone to the Brussels meeting, but Quartet representatives are expected to hold talks with Netanyahu’s negotiating team in Jerusalem next week, officials said.
Since the expiry in September of a temporary ban on settlement building — which Netanyahu refused to extend — the Palestinians have refused all direct contact with the Israelis, saying they will not talk while settlers build on land they want for a future state.
The international community, spearheaded by the Quartet, is now trying to coax both sides into restarting some form of negotiations.