Israel mulls US proposal on leasing Palestinian land 1Nov10 November 3, 2010

Middle East Online -  1 November 2010

Israel is mulling a US proposal for addressing key security concerns that would entail leasing swathes of the Jordan Valley from a future Palestinian state, army radio said on Monday.

The radio quoted anonymous Israeli officials as saying Washington had suggested a seven-year lease. They said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had not rejected the idea out of hand but was looking for a far longer period.

“Anything less than a 99-year lease is not worth talking about,” an unnamed cabinet minister was quoted as saying.

The Jordan Valley, which runs from the Sea of Galilee down to the Dead Sea, is about 100 kilometres (62 miles) long. Around 80 percent of it runs through the occupied West Bank, and it also flanks the Israel-Jordan border.

Netanyahu has said Israel must maintain a security presence along the border in a peace deal with the Palestinians to ensure heavy weapons are not smuggled into their state and to prevent a link-up with hostile military forces.

The premier’s office would neither confirm nor deny Monday’s report while a cabinet minister said he had no knowledge of such a proposal.

“I have no clue,” said Welfare Minister Isaac Hertzog, who has observer status in Netanyahu’s inner security cabinet. “I’m saying it out loud, I don’t know anything about it.”

However, Hertzog said he believed various “formulas” were being discussed in an effort to restart stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and that Netanyahu’s planned visit to the United States next week was likely to be key.

“I think that it will be a very important visit,” Hertzog told a group of diplomats and foreign journalists. “I hope that next week we will be able to see a formula that will enable us to move forward.”

Netanyahu on Sunday said he would fly to the United States on November 7 to meet US Vice President Joe Biden and other officials to discuss “a renewal of the peace process with the aim of reaching an agreement on peace with security for the state of Israel.”

He will not be meeting US President Barack Obama, who will be travelling in Asia at the time.

Israel and the Palestinians resumed direct peace negotiations on September 2, but the talks ran aground several weeks later after the expiry of a 10-month Israeli moratorium on Jewish settlement building in the West Bank.

Netanyahu has steadfastly refused to reimpose the ban, while Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas has declined to talk while Israel builds on land he wants for a future state, prompting intense US efforts to resolve the deadlock.

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