JERUSALEM (AFP) – Washington is pushing a plan to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace talks that foresees reaching a final deal in two years and agreeing on borders in nine months, an Israeli daily said on Monday.
Under the plan, the Israelis and Palestinians would immediately start final status talks that were suspended during the Gaza Strip war a year ago, Israel’s Maariv newspaper reported, citing unnamed sources.
The Palestinians said they have received no plan and accused Israel of using media leaks to divert attention from their demands for a complete settlement freeze before talks can restart.
“We have not received, neither officially nor in any other form, a plan from the American administration to bring about peace in the region,” Nimr Hamad, an aide to Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, told AFP.
“Israel is trying with these media leaks to pressure president Abbas to enter into negotiations without a complete halt to settlements across all the Palestinian territories, including Jerusalem.”
Israel’s hardline Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, meanwhile, spoke out on Monday against setting time limits to talks.
Meeting Britain’s former prime minister, Middle East envoy Tony Blair, Lieberman said “it is important to hold an open and honest dialogue with the Palestinians without sowing delusions that are disconnected from reality and which will only lead to violence and frustration.
“It is not possible to reach an agreement on permanent borders in nine months and a full agreement in two years,” Lieberman said, according to a statement from his office.
“What we need to do is begin direct talks without a time frame,” he told Blair, who serves as the envoy for the so-called Quartet on the Middle East peace process — the United States, European Union, Russia and the United Nations.
After meeting Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak at the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, Abbas told reporters he was open to negotiations with Israel, but that talks could only resume when Jewish settlement activity ends.
There was no immediate comment on the report from US or Egyptian officials.
Under the US plan, the two sides would first discuss the issue of permanent borders, with a deadline of nine months for reaching an agreement, Maariv said.
The idea is to have an agreement on borders before the expiry of an Israeli moratorium on new settlement construction in the occupied West Bank, so Israel will start to build again only in those settlements that will be inside its borders under the final status agreement, it said.
Underlying the discussions will be the principle of a land swap that has figured prominently in past peace talks — Israel will keep its major settlement blocks in the West Bank and the Palestinians will get land inside Israel in return.
“After reaching an agreement on borders, the sides will move on to discuss the other core issues: Jerusalem and refugees,” Maariv said.
To entice both sides to agree to the deal, Washington is preparing letters of guarantee.
The Palestinians will get a letter guaranteeing that the two-year deadline will be final, with no delay. “If no agreement is reached, the Palestinians will request US backing for their demand to receive an area equal in size to the territory under Arab rule prior to 1967,” Maariv said.
The Israelis will probably receive a note ratifying a letter that former US president George W. Bush wrote to then Israeli premier Ariel Sharon in 2004, in which he said that a final status agreement will be based on the principle of land swaps that will allow Israel to keep its major settlement blocs.
Arab diplomats in Cairo told AFP last week that US President Barack Obama’s administration was drafting letters of guarantee, but did not provide details.