News / Middle East

Netanyahu: Israel Wants Partial West Bank Control in Peace Deal

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, convenes the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, March 6, 2011
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, convenes the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, March 6, 2011

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says Israel must retain military control of part of the occupied West Bank in any future peace deal with the Palestinians, a position that Palestinian officials reject.

Netanyahu made the comment Tuesday as he visited the Jordan Valley, a strip of West Bank land on the border with Jordan that he called Israel's "first line of defense" against security threats. He said that without a continued Israeli military presence along the Jordan River, "terrorists" would smuggle in rockets and missiles that could strike all of Israel.

Palestinians claim all of the West Bank and East Jerusalem for a future state and have long demanded a complete Israeli withdrawal from those areas as part of a peace agreement.

Israeli media have said Netanyahu is planning a new initiative to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks that broke down weeks after they started last September under U.S. mediation. The Wall Street Journal newspaper quoted Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak Tuesday as saying Netanyahu may propose a Palestinian state with temporary borders.

Palestinian Authority spokesman Nabil Abu Rdainah repeated his government's long-standing rejection of temporary borders Tuesday. The Reuters news agency quotes him as saying that Israel must stop settlement activity if it is serious about resuming negotiations.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague called on Israel and the Palestinians to recommit themselves to negotiations as soon as possible on the basis of "clear principles" with international support. He said the peace process must not become a "casualty of uncertainty in the region" and warned that time is running out for a two-state solution to the conflict.

Hague was speaking Tuesday in a joint news conference with visiting Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whose government is based in the West Bank.

Britain's top diplomat said a Mideast peace deal is becoming harder to achieve because of what he called the "encroachment" of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, the "isolation" of the Hamas militant-ruled Gaza Strip, and the "entrenchment of Palestinian divisions."

Abbas told the news conference that Palestinians should let the ballot boxes "speak for themselves." He also welcomed Britain's decision Monday to upgrade the status of the Palestinian delegation in London to the level of a "mission" and said he hopes it will be recognized eventually as a full-fledged embassy.

The last round of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks broke down when Israel rejected Palestinian demands for the continuation of an Israeli freeze on housing starts in West Bank Jewish settlements. Palestinians say settlement activity robs them of land they want for a state.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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